On January 10, two white women were shoved off their bikes by three African American teenage girls near Legacy Hospital ["Bicyclists Attacked," News, Jan 18]. Since that time, the attack has raised questions throughout the community of whether this crime, and other recent bike attacks in the neighborhood, are race-related or simply anti-cyclist. In response, BikePortland.org's Jonathan Maus has been working to change the way cyclists are perceived in the city, especially in neighborhoods that have rapidly gentrified in the past few years.
His top priority? Establishing a community bike patrol.
Maus isn't interested in policing; he says his goal is to help create community rather than further segregating it. "I want to de-emphasize the words 'patrol' or 'policing,' and focus on activating people who ride bikes to get out into the neighborhood and be a part of it, including neighborhood kids," Maus said. "I want to make it something that's more fun. I was thinking of calling it 'Bike Beat.'"
Maus intends to collaborate with local businesses to help sponsor his initiative; he'll solicit a graphic designer to create a stencil for T-shirts and jackets, and partner with Community Cycling Center for low-cost or free bikes for kids who are interested in the group, but can't afford their own bikes.
But is his initiative going to get to the heart of the issues raised by the attack, namely race relations and the tensions raised by gentrification? When asked if he feels the recent attacks were race- or cyclist-based, Maus responded, "Let's be realistic—and it's important that my remarks aren't taken out of context—but there is a perception that most cyclists are white and most groups of kids looking for crimes of opportunity are black. These things are generally true, as are the mixed feelings about gentrification and the fact that North Portland is still a very strong black neighborhood. But, these crimes are more about kids knowing that cyclists can't easily protect themselves and that there's a lack of seriousness with which police take crime acted out on bikers."
So, for now, Maus intends to use his position to encourage neighborhood activism and to educate people about cycling. However, his community-based approach will only last so long—if Maus doesn't see things improving, he'll demand greater police protection.
"This is a very sensitive issue, and if I keep hearing about attacks, I could quickly change my tone and call for more immediate action from the city," he claims. "It's not just crazy anarchists who ride bikes. Real Portlanders ride bikes, and we deserve the same response and respect as someone in a Porsche."