You may remember the case of Randy Crump, the driver who intimidated local cyclists with his car and sent one to the hospital, last year. The McLean County State’s Attorney charged him with a misdemeanor and two felonies for his conduct, but as the case wound its way through the court system, a jury found him innocent of the misdemeanor and deadlocked on the two felonies. Today, he pled guilty to a class A misdemeanor and a petty offense, and the felonies are completely off the table.
We have to say it: the American criminal justice system is biased against cyclists.
We weren’t in the room for the jury deliberations, but we can only assume the outcome would’ve been different if the members of the jury could better place themselves in the shoes of the victims. As stated in the 2013 New York Times opinion piece “Is it O.K. to Kill Cyclists?”:
Laws do forbid reckless driving, gross negligence and vehicular manslaughter. The problem, according to Ray Thomas, a Portland, Ore., attorney who specializes in bike law, is that “jurors identify with drivers.” Convictions carry life-destroying penalties, up to six years in prison, Mr. Thomas pointed out, and jurors “just think, well, I could make the same mistake. So they don’t convict.” That’s why police officers and prosecutors don’t bother making arrests. Most cops spend their lives in cars, too, so that’s where their sympathies lie.
Think about that for a minute: you can drive a 2000-lb vehicle recklessly, and even kill someone with it, and just because the people involved in prosecuting you drive, too, you may get off scot-free. But if you make the mistake of riding a bike through a green light and a driver decides to make an illegal left turn, you may end up in the hospital fighting police officers who won’t even look at the video evidence clearly showing you did everything right.
We’re lucky in this community to have police officers who regularly ride bikes, and a State’s Attorney who was willing to bump the initial charges against Mr. Crump up to more serious ones – and even retry him after the first trial deadlocked. That’s great, and we’re really thankful for State’s Attorney Jason Chambers and his staff for taking this incident so seriously.
But if we’re still dealing with jurors who can only identify with criminal drivers and not innocent cyclists, that’s a problem. Bike BloNo exists to normalize cycling; we hope we can reach a point where everybody treats people on bikes with empathy and respect, but we’re not there today. We’ll keep working until we get there.