18 August 2016

Edward Adkins: A Victim of Phantom Law Syndrome

During one of my many rides to Point Lookout, I was riding between a traffic jam and the shoulder of Lido Boulevard, just west of the Meadowbrook Parkway entrance.  As I recall, it was a weekday, so I wondered why there so many cars along the Boulevard headed away from Point Lookout. 

I soon had my answer.  Just past the high school, a truck crashed--apparently, from swerving.  The light turned red; I stopped.

"Ma'am.  Get over here!"  I didn't think the burly man in a suit was yelling to me--until he scuttled in front of me.

"I'm talking to you!  When I say come, come!"

"Why?  You're not my father!"

"Don't get cute with me!"

"As if I could..."

"Listen, I don't wanna arrest you..."

"For what..."

"Never mind.  See that truck over there."

I nodded.

"Well, there's a guy on a bike under it, with his skull crushed.  Doesn't look like he's gonna make it."

"Oh, dear..."

"Listen, that coulda been you!"

"Well, I'm careful."

"Well, you were riding carelessly."

"How so?"

"You were riding between cars..."

I wasn't, but I didn't argue.  Then he lectured me about bicycle safety, pointing out that he was a "bicycle safety officer" for the local police department.  I had the impression that everything he knew about bicycle safety, he learned from one of those movies they used to show kids back in the days of "air raid drills".

"That's against the lore (translation:  law), ya' no'."

Then he ordered me to take off my sunglasses.  "Doesn't look like yer under the influence."  Squinting, I slid them back onto my face.

"Where do ya live?" he demanded.


"You rode all the way from Queens?"  Again, I nodded.

"Well, at least you're wearing a helmet.   The guy under the truck wasn't."

Silence.  Then, "Listen, be careful. I really don't want you getting hurt.  And remember...don't ride between cars.  If I see you doin' that again, I'll hafta write you up."

Later, I looked up the traffic and bicycle codes for the town where I encountered that officer.  I couldn't find any prohibition against riding between cars.  Nor could I find any such regulation in county codes or New York State law. An attorney I contacted called that officer's assertion "nonsense".

Now, the officer I encountered that day may have been upset after dealing with a cyclist who got his head crushed under a truck. Or he may have been having a bad day for some other reason, or had some sort of unspecified rage--or a more specific animus against cyclists, or me as an "uppity" (at least, in the eyes of someone like him) female.  

Or he may have just been suffering from what I call "Phantom Law Syndrome".  

To be fair, police officers aren't the only ones prone to PLS. Lots of people think there are, or aren't, laws against one thing or another in their jurisdiction.  So, they might break a law without realizing it, or keep themselves from doing something because they believe, incorrectly, that there's a law against it. Or they might accuse someone of breaking a law that doesn't exist.

Also--again, to be fair--laws change.  Sometimes they're struck down, aren't renewed or replaced with other laws. Or  they're passed with little or no fanfare.  So, it's not inconceivable that some officer or detective wouldn't be aware of such changes.

I was reminded of those things, and the encounter I've described, when I came across the sad saga of Edward Adkins.

Edward Adkins

Nearly two years ago, a police officer saw the Dallas native riding his bicycle, sans helmet, in his hometown. Apparently, the constable didn't realized that the city's ordinance mandating helmets had been struck down, at least for adults, a few months earlier.  Adkins, 46 years old, lives off odd jobs and didn't have $10 to pay the fine.  

Now there is a warrant for his arrest, which he can pay off--for $259.30.  

Now, I am not a lawyer, and I certainly am not familiar with the police or courts in Dallas.  Still, I can't help but to think that there must be a way to lift the warrant--and to void the ticket because it shouldn't have been issued in the first place.

Even if he has such recourse, though, I imagine it would be very difficult for Adkins to pursue.  After all, doing so would take time and money that he, apparently, doesn't have. 

It also doesn't help Adkins that, in addition to being poor, he is black and lives in a neighborhood comprised mainly of people like him.  Living under such circumstances leaves you even more vulnerable to police officers and other authorities with PLS.  For that matter, laws that actually do exist for such things as wearing helmets and against such things as riding on the sidewalk are more often, and more strictly, enforced in poor minority neighborhoods than in other areas.   I have witnessed it myself:  Not long ago, while riding through the East New York section of Brooklyn, I saw three officers grab one young black man who rode his bike on the sidewalk while a young white couple pedaled through a red light.

Now that I think back to that encounter with the "bicycle safety officer" on Lido Boulevard, I can't help but to wonder how it might've turned out if I'd been darker and poorer (or, at least, riding a bike that wasn't as nice as the one I was riding)--or if I hadn't been wearing a helmet, whether or not one was mandated.


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  2. Please tell me where can I buy a helmet which is strong enough to be run over by a truck

    PLS should carry a mandatory jail sentence for so called officers of the law! As a long haired youth they ruined many a set of tyres flat spotting them in their hurry to harass me and ensure a lifetime of antipathy towards those who do not serve or protect!

    I think that you hit it spot on when you thought the idiot's experience of bicycles was theoretical at best and mixed in with a huge dose of "Phantom Knowlege Distortion"! I suffer from idiots in charge of cycle routes who have never ridden a bike and have not the first clue as to what constitutes a reasonable surface or safe route.

    As for where we can cycle, nobody knows anymore. Kids grow up cycling on walkways and many continue to do so because in many places the roads have been made unsafe but you know that if we tried it a bad cop would give us hell whilst a bank was robbed behind them...

    Cycling could save the planet, motorists will destroy it...

  3. Coincidentally, I read that same article this morning. BTW, I seem unable to remember to get any policeman's BADGE NUMBER or other positive ID whenever I've gotten stopped for violation of an imaginary law. In OS, that is doubly bad (not that I've ever been stopped here), since the PD is pretty small and I could memorize the IDs of all of them if I were so motivated.

  4. Steve--I, too, never remember to get an officer's badge number when I'm stopped for anything. I think the stress of the encounter causes us to forget.

    I was thinking of you when I read that article.

    Coline--"Cycling could save the planet, motorists will destroy it..." And police officers like the one I encountered will enable the motorists!

  5. It'sad but it seems in many places the poor are seen as "cash cow" to be milked. Especially if they're black or brown. The authorities know that once the poor are caught up in an endless cycle of catch 22's they are unlikely to fight back.

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  7. Phillip--I think it was James Baldwin who said that nothing is more expensive than being poor. Your observations confirm that.