Oakland Police Throw Rich City Rides’s Najari Smith in Jail

He was riding his bike during an organized ride. A cop asked him to turn down his music. He did. Cop arrested him anyway.

Najari Smith and his rig, from East Bay Bike Party's Facebook post
Najari Smith and his rig, from East Bay Bike Party's Facebook post

This past Friday, August 3, Najari Smith, founder and executive director of Rich City Rides, was leading a group of young people to a Friday Night Bike Party ride, sometime between 8:30 and 9. He was towing his music system on his bike when he was arrested by Oakland Police, in or near the parking lot of the Taco Bell in downtown Oakland, ostensibly for playing loud music.

Streesblog talked with Smith, now out on bail after spending the weekend in jail, briefly via cell phone as he was on his way to pick up his impounded bicycle this morning from the Oakland Police Traffic Division. “I’m not pleading guilty, I have no intention to,” he said. Smith was reluctant to discuss details of the case before consulting with an attorney. His hearing is set for August 31.

Streetsblog also spoke with Jennifer Rougeaux, a friend of Smith’s who posted on Facebook about the incident and had a copy of the citation. Rougeaux said the citation listed “CVC 27007 Sound Amp” as the only charge. That refers to a portion of the California Vehicle Code that states that “No driver of a vehicle shall operate, or permit the operation of, any sound amplification system which can be heard outside the vehicle from 50 or more feet when the vehicle is being operated upon a highway.”

So how does a citation for playing loud music translate into an arrest?

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I’ve got multiple tickets for playing music, but why was he incarcerated?” asked Reginald ‘RB’ Burnette of the Original Scraper Bike Team in a phone interview with Streetsblog. RB, who was there when the arrest went down, said he was with a group just finishing up a memorial ride for Nia Wilson, the young woman who was murdered on BART last month. Afterwards, RB, Smith, and others met up at the Taco Bell on Grand and Telegraph to start a First Friday Night Bike Party ride. He said there were about 30 riders total. “We were going to leave, before we could do that a group of Oakland PD bum rushed him and took his bike.”

From RB’s account and the Facebook post, it seems tensions mounted because riders were outraged at the aggressive way the cops approached them. Smith tried to de-escalate, but ended up arrested for reasons that are still unclear (or perhaps all too clear). Rougeaux and others are trying to track down video of the incident. Please post below if you were there or have links to video.

Meanwhile, Streetsblog has inquiries out to the Oakland Police Department and Mayor Libby Schaaf’s office about Smith’s arrest and will update this post accordingly.

UPDATE: At 6 p.m., the OPD issued the following statement in response to the incident:

On Friday, August 3, 2018, following the First Friday event, Oakland Police officers observed Mr. Smith impeding traffic at the intersection of W. Grand and Telegraph by taking over the intersection on his bike and continuously riding in circles. OPD officers had been trying to clear that intersection for vehicular traffic movement and Mr. Smith’s actions interfered with that effort. In addition, Mr. Smith had a sound system that was heard over 50’ which is also an infraction of the California Vehicle Code section 27007. OPD officers made contact with Mr. Smith to issue a ticket for the infractions. Mr. Smith refused to provide identification or any information that would assist the officers in identifying him to issue a ticket for the violation. The officers also advised Mr. Smith that if he refused to provide identification in order to cite and release him, they would be required to arrest him, as is required by California Vehicle Code section 40302. Smith continued to refuse to provide identification several times and was arrested pursuant to Penal Code section 148. After he was taken into custody, Mr. Smith repeatedly provided false information to the officers trying to identify him.

Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director of Bike East Bay, said police departments in Oakland and San Leandro often target the Bike Party rides. “Oakland police do not have the appreciation of the importance of riding bikes in a celebratory ride and why that’s important and why it should be accommodated.”

He added that Smith’s arrest falls into a pattern of excessive traffic stops of cyclists and especially people of color in Oakland. He sent Streetsblog an analysis, based on a Stanford study of Oakland Police traffic stop crime data, that Bike East Bay did back in 2017:

How much more likely are you to be stopped when biking while Black? A lot more likely, according to a study from Stanford University. Analyzing the 2014 traffic stop data from the Oakland Police Department (OPD), researchers found that of the 1,081 bicyclists stopped by police in 2014, 73% were Black. Police stopped six Black bicyclists for every white bicyclist detained. This number is disproportionately high compared to both the biking population and the general population of Oakland, which is 28% Black.

The analysis, penned by Bike East Bay Education Director Robert Prinz and Executive Director Ginger Jui, also found that “…police were much more likely to handcuff Black people during a traffic stop. According to the Stanford study data, Black bicyclists stopped in West Oakland were three times more likely to be handcuffed than white bicyclists in that neighborhood.”

Smith, meanwhile, has this written about him, and community bike rides, on the Rich City Rides web page: “Najari believes in using bicycles to unite neighborhoods and community members throughout the entire Bay Area by creating the biggest bicycle celebrations this city has ever had. These events make the city of Richmond noticeable to the rest of the Bay Area while increasing the pride of its own residents…. I just want my people to be happy, healthy, and interconnected.”

For more on Smith, be sure to check out this Streetsblog California feature from 2016.

During this morning’s brief phone call, Smith told Streetsblog that he wants “as many people as possible to come to my August 31st court date, at 9 a.m. [Dept. 112, Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse, 661 Washington St, Oakland]. If folks want to come out, I’ll be willing to talk to folks at length about what happened at that time.”

Rich City Rides has also posted a Facebook events page for the hearing.

  • Parque_Hundido

    It has always been my understanding that you need a permit for “amplified music” but not acoustic music.

  • thielges

    Jail time seems like an awfully harsh punishment for playing loud music.

  • Parque_Hundido

    Well, he admits to having had multiple tickets for the same offense. At some point the tickets evidently do not deter, in much the same way as they do not seem to deter speeders or those who run stop lights.

  • RichLL Commentary Track

    Astute readers might notice that the person who was arrested and the person admitting to multiple tickets are not the same. I’m counting on the fact that there are many people like me who can’t be bothered to tell black people apart so won’t realize my claim is a lie.

  • Parque_Hundido

    Both are part of the same group, who clearly had been warned many times. And it was only a week-end in central lock-up – no big deal. Perhaps he will learn his lesson now.

  • Tooscrapps

    I guess any person who gets multiple speeding tickets in their lifetime should be thrown in jail as well.

  • Parque_Hundido

    It is my understanding that any type of offense can lead to a prison sentence, if it happens enough. Clearly if citations and fines do not deter, then the punishment needs to be stepped up.

    I suspect this guy will just get “time served” and a fine, unless he took a swing at the arresting cop or some such. Probation as well would deter repeat offenses.

  • p_chazz

    Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

  • p_chazz

    If you don’t pay a ticket, it turns into a warrant. If you have outstanding warrants, you go to jail until you pay off the ticket AND the warrant. I should know. I went to jail for an unpaid jaywalking ticket.

  • Tooscrapps

    I’m sorry, where did you read that the tickets were outstanding?

  • AmericanAhole

    The headline says that Smith obeyed the police’s request to lower the volume (“A cop asked him to turn down his music. He did.”), but neither the accounts provided by the bikers or the police’s account seem to claim that. It sounds to me rather like the police asked, the incident grew hostile, and the police arrested Smith and confiscated the bike.

  • murphstahoe

    Actually in fact, any person who drives should be thrown in jail because they are on the freeways with someone else who has gotten multiple speeding tickets, if Parque_Hundido’s logic is to be followed

  • murphstahoe

    This explains a lot

  • murphstahoe

    The stance of the cops towards blacks is so crystal clear.

    Compare and contrast. I was riding to the Golden Gate Transit stop on the Golden Gate Bridge a few years back. The stop is sort of “on the bridge” or the “approach” to the bridge. To access that location I ride from the parking lot on the South Side (by the snack bar) basically “entering” the bridge roadway for roughly 20 yards at which point I get to the bus stop and get off my bike and get on the bus platform.

    A cop saw me riding onto the bridge and followed me buzzers and lights flashing, yelling “GET ON THE SIDEWALK” on his megaphone. When I got to the platform and got on the sidewalk, he rolled down his window and started barking at me.

    I barked back. I indicated that in SF it is illegal to ride on the *sidewalk*, so he was advising me to do something illegal. He said “there is a sign back there that says BIKES PROHIBITED”. I said “I’m more than willing to walk down there and let you show me the imaginary sign that doesn’t exist, but I’d prefer to get on my bus – you see this is a bus stop and I’m allowed to ride to the bus stop”. We kept going and I was reading the cop the riot act, eventually he said “well we are just going to have to agree to disagree”.

    In retrospect I fully believe that if I wasn’t a middle age white guy on a very high end bike wearing expensive cycling kit, he would have gotten out of the car and arrested me. But I didn’t even blink about yelling at the cop. That is white privilege. I instinctively knew he wouldn’t do anything to me.

    By the way, I was right, there is no sign as he claims – but if you go 50 yards down the roadway past the bus stop and the CHP station is where the actual BIKES PROHIBITED sign is. You can ride to the bus stop and CHP but not beyond. This has probably come up before because at some point the park service stenciled a bike symbol with “BIKE ROUTE” on the sidewalk, it’s mostly faded away and the symbol isn’t any sort of official street signage, and without a bikes prohibited sign for the roadway it’s meaningless. I wish I had said “Don’t waste my time arguing, please write me a ticket, but promise to show up to court”

  • David

    They were both on the same ride. That doesn’t mean they are from the same group. Naj runs Rich City Rides, which does important bicycling outreach to the community and POC in Richmond. RB of Scraper Bikes does similar work in Oakland. This would be like saying that the mayors of Berkeley and Albany are in the same group because they happen to do the same thing in nearby communities. Just because the mayor of Berkeley got warned for something doesn’t mean that the mayor of Albany also got a warning.

  • David

    You sure are reading a lot into this. Where does it say Naj has been cited before? Or are you still mixing up Naj and RB because you can’t tell African-American pillars of our community apart?

  • David

    This reminds me of an incident a friend and I experienced in Emeryville a couple (few?) years ago. We were riding in the middle of the right lane going north on San Pablo. EPD fuzz pulled us over and was spewing such nonsense as we don’t belong on the road, etc. I took a very argumentative tone with the officer, but my friend (who is African-American) took an approach that was not antagonistic in the slightest. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but because I appear white (even though I’m Latino), I didn’t feel nearly at risk for police harassment like my friend did. Sometimes one doesn’t appreciate privilege, even accidental privilege, except with hindsight.

  • Parque_Hundido

    Asked and answered. We’ve already discussed the fact that these two individuals were in the same group, and so both would have been aware of the previous citations.

    Not sure why you are playing a race card there. There is no evidence in the article that race was any kind of issue here. In fact I didn’t even notice the race of the perp.

    Better question. If a driver had made the same amount of noise, and was arrested, would thee be any outrage here? Why is being on a bike make it any different? It’s the noise level that is the factor.

  • Parque_Hundido

    It seems inconceivable that two kindred souls such as these could have had tickets for doing the same thing and they didn’t discuss it.

    Not that it really matters – either the noise was excessive or it was not. I suspect the perp may have engaged in some pushback or ran his mouth, and that increased the odds of a trip to central lockup. Bad luck for it to be a Friday night as an OR release is hard to get over a week-end.

  • Gocurrey

    Why do you refuse to admit that you were the one who read a paragraph incorrectly, and then moved the goalposts when called out on it?

    Maybe because you’re not really interested in the facts (Smith and RB are not the same person), you’re just trying to push a narrative. Why are you so committed to your narrative?

  • Parque_Hundido

    I deem it very likely that two guys doing the same kind of things in the same area would have known about each other’s citations. Both either knew their acts are illegal, or should have known. They understood the risks and then ignored them.

    But it doesn’t matter either way. The noise was excessive and the cop was within his right to detain the perp. In practice I suspect that the perp answered back and remonstrated, which is usually a bad move since it’s hard to talk a cop out of giving you a ticket, and pissing him off isn’t real smart.

  • murphstahoe

    He probably did run his mouth, his kind tends to be uppity

  • Parque_Hundido

    I was not suggesting that race is a factor in how strident someone is with cops, and you should not either. There is no evidence I know of to support that view.

    But no matter what your race, if you get a ticket, just stay calm, be civil, thank the officer and you are much less likely to spend the week-end wearing orange, eating bologna sandwiches and picking lice out of your hair.

  • MarkH2

    That’s just stupid speculation.

  • MarkH2

    You “deem it very likely”? You have no idea. Just stupid speculation.

  • Parque_Hundido

    Just like the equally stupid speculation that race was a factor here, do you mean?

  • Stuart

    Why do you refuse to admit that you were the one who read a paragraph incorrectly, and then moved the goalposts when called out on it?

    Because the account you are replying to is one of RichLL’s many accounts, and refusing to admit being wrong about anything and moving goalposts are core to his MO.

    He’s so notorious for this among regular readers that he’s taken to changing names and accounts regularly to try to avoid his reputation and account blocking, to trick people who have written off engaging with him as a waste of time into replying to the “new” poster.

  • Stuart

    if Parque_Hundido’s logic

    You shouldn’t give RichLL the satisfaction of helping to further associate someone else’s username with the nonsense he posts:
    https://disqus.com/home/discussion/streetsblogdc/new_oregon_law_aims_to_shed_light_on_police_bias_in_traffic_stops/#comment-3505787160

  • Kapris James

    Naj is very low key and a very quiet individual and me and my children ride with him EVERY SUNDAY…and what do you mean “his kind”?

  • murphstahoe

    I was making fun of the poster I was responding too – calling that person a racist

  • Kapris James

    Oh ok thanks for the clarification. 😉🙂. We love Naj. 🙏🏾

  • Spifford

    Except we didn’t get your sarcastic link, so now we think you’re a racist.

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