An environmental group in New York City has led a bike ride through three of the city’s boroughs and used art installations to protest about what it sees as inadequate investigation by the New York Police Department (NYPD) into the deaths of eight cyclists or pedestrians killed in recent months by a driver claimed to have made at least one traffic violation. In each case, the NYPD has already closed its file on the grounds of “no criminality suspected,” says the group Time’s Up!
Ahead of Friday’s ride, dubbed Criminality Suspected, the organisation used stencils and paint to create a striking memorial at the location of each fatality, which were spread throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queen’s – the outline of a body in red, with yellow lettering denoting the date, and the victim’s name, where known.
Also stencilled on the sidewalk were the words “Why, Ray, Why?” – a message to the city’s Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly.
According to Time’s Up!, earlier this month Kelly wrote to James Vacca, chair of the City Council, which last year strongly criticised the NYPD’s investigation of traffic collisions, with the commissioner promising a fresh approach on the police’s part.
In his letter dated 4 March, Kelly said that the NYPD’s accident investigation unit would be boosted by the addition of ten staff, that it would no longer talk about “accidents” but “collisions” instead, and that it would investigate incidents involving serious injury as well as death.
However, Time’s Up! insists that it has taken less than a fortnight for those words to have been proved hollow, highlighting the case of Tenzin Drudik, killed by a van on a sidewalk in Long Island City, the driver of which was said to be distracted since he was drinking milk. Police released the driver without charge, describing the incident as an “accident.”
In a press release published last Thursday, the eve of the Criminality Suspected ride, Time’s Up! quoted traffic analyst Charles Komanoff as saying: “The NYPD is charged with investigating serious crashes and enforcing traffic laws including the requirement that motor vehicles be driven with due care, yet in each of these cases, and in the vast majority of cases in which pedestrians and cyclists are killed by automobile, the NYPD declared “no criminality suspected” within hours of the crash, and the accident investigation reports that could support demands for safer streets have not been released to the public, including families of the victims.”
Lawyer Steve Vaccaro, expert in traffic law, said: “In clearly delineated situations, acts of traffic violence should be presumptively criminal – no matter how prevalent instances of such violence may be at present – with an opportunity for the driver to rebut the presumption.”
One of the organisers of the protest, Keegan Stephan, added: “By declaring ‘no criminality suspected’ within hours of deadly crashes and yet refusing to release their investigations, the NYPD is whitewashing traffic violence to the public, withholding potentially emotionally-healing information from grieving families, and robbing safer-streets activists of the information they need to best advocate for a livable city.”
According to StreetBlogs.org, the victims commemorated on the Criminality Suspected ride, and the locations where they died, are:
Mike Rogalle, killed on the sidewalk by an SUV driver who jumped the curb on Beekman Street in Lower Manhattan last April.
An unidentified woman, who was struck and killed by a private dump truck driver in January while she was biking on East 23rd Street near Madison Avenue.
Mir Hossain, a taxi driver who was standing next to his vehicle in January when a speeding SUV driver rear-ended his double-parked cab, sending him flying to the ground and killing him.
An unidentified woman, killed in February after a two-car crash sent one of the vehicles onto the sidewalk at Third Avenue and East 27th Street, where she was standing.
Rubin Baum, killed in September by a driver who ran a red light at Park Avenue and East 59th Street. Baum pushed his wife out of the way of the oncoming driver, saving her life before he was pinned beneath the vehicle.
Ryo Oyamada, killed by the driver of an NYPD cruiser on 40th Avenue near 10th Street in Queensbridge in February.
Martha Atwater, killed by a pickup truck driver on the sidewalk at the corner of Clinton Street and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn in February.
Tenzin Drudak, killed by a distracted driver on the sidewalk at 30th Street and Thompson Avenue in Long Island City on Monday.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.