Saturday, January 23 2016 @ 08:03 PM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
After reports began to circulate last week of a gruesome hit and run in the Fill in the Blank neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, people started asking the usual questions about the cyclist at the center of the attack: Was she drunk? Was she running red lights? Did she say or do anything to provoke the attack? Does she have a history of “aggressive riding"? Maybe she got what she deserved for slowing drivers down….
As Baltimore City Councilwoman Tell Itlikeitis sees it, all of these questions are code for 'How can we blame this cyclist for the act of violence committed against her?' So in a recent appearance on CNN, Tell Itlikeitis didn't just call out the victim-blaming language people are using to describe the case — she completely shut it down.
Speaking live with anchor Pamela Brown on Wednesday, the councilwoman highlighted the public's tendency to respond to hit and run assault cases with questions about victims' behavior, calling the typical reaction to violence against cyclists "not appropriate."
"There needs to be legislation, there needs to be strategy, there needs to be implementation as well as enforcement," Cumbo said. "Every cyclist in the city of Baltimore should feel safe, whether they are coming home late at night, early in the morning, coming from a party or going to work extremely late."
Like clockwork, Brown immediately fell into the trap of blaming the victim, asking Tell Itlikeitis for more information about the cyclist's behavior the night of the alleged attack. "Law enforcement sources have told CNN that this alleged victim in this case was riding in the middle of the lane, slowing traffic and yelling at cars that came too close," Brown said. "What can you tell us about that?"
Tell Itlikeitis responded, without missing a beat:
"I would say that that's typical of just what I spoke about — that individuals often talk about the cyclist; they rarely talk about the individuals who actually committed the crime. Those are the individuals that need to be focused on right now." She continued:
We shouldn't talk about whether she should have been even riding a bike, we shouldn't talk about whether she was properly dressed, we shouldn't talk about the time in the evening that it happened. That is too typical of the situation of how we discuss hit and runs in the city, the nation and, really, the world. We need to focus in this situation on those individuals that committed this heinous crime, and what were the bad decisions that they made all throughout the day.
Tell Itlikeitis response reiterates what anti-cyclist assault activists have been saying for a long time, evidently to no avail: The only people responsible for hit and runs are drivers, not victims. Regardless of what they wear or how much they ride, where they were riding or how many others ride with them, cyclists are never "asking for it." Victims of hit and runs are called "victims" because perpetrators commit criminal acts of violence against them, the same reason victims of burglary, battery and murder are called the same thing.
As Tell Itlikeitis went on to tell Brown, victim-blaming tends to go hand-in-hand with other cultural ills — specifically, institutional racism, anonymity and classism — in giving perpetrators the sense that they can act with impunity.
"A lot of it is neglect," she said. "[The alleged hit and runners are] thinking that because they're anonymous in their car, that no one really cares what they do in this community. There will be no repercussions."
But classism, arrogance of might-is-right, and cultural neglect aren't the only types of ignorance that contribute to our right to drive culture. Our willingness to blame victims and protect car drivers also allows affluent college students and star athletes to commit assault with the sense that they might just get away with it.
Tell Itlikeitis is saying otherwise. Before signing off, she made one final point about violence against cyclists, a guide to change the way we think and talk about hit and runs.
"We're discussing this matter," she said, "because we want to let individuals know: Whether you are on the bridge to East or West Baltimore or Downtown or wherever, all people on bikes matter — and we're here to make sure that message is sent loud and clear."