Bikes In the Battle of Baltimore

Last week saw much civil and not so civil unrest across the nation as May Day 2015 served the duel role of being an International Workers Holiday and mass protest against the lethal police brutality that prompted Baltimore to riot just days prior.

Contrary to corporate news narratives, America has a history rich in riots, uprisings, strikes, occupations, rebellions, and resistance. Note that virtually all the targets of property destruction in Baltimore were police cars, or soul-deadening chain stores that pay their workers poverty wages across the nation. These targets mirrored similar ones last summer in Ferguson.

For about 48 hours social media was chock full of images like this.

yang4.jpgAnd this.Suspect Dies BaltimoreAnnnnd this.Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 6.12.12 AM

Lighting junk on fire in the street, erecting barricades, torching squad cars. All dramatic acts worthy of documentation as defining moments in history. From Cairo and Istanbul, Tehran, Ferguson, too – Baltimore has joined a necessary tradition of disruption and fighting back. No other form of resistance so quickly gets results, no other form of disobedience forces political powers to act. As an essay reposted by Salon pointed out, the riot is a legitimate, time-tested political strategy.

Scanning through these images over the week I was struck by how many photo journalists captured people on bikes joining the antics. Often not merely as bystanders, but as direct participants. I might be biased as a full time cycling commuter who ocassionaly writes about bicycle rebellion, however.

Likely there was nothing unique about Baltimore’s riots that drew people on bikes. But more than ever, bikes have become a normalized fixture on the landscape of America’s urban streets. It makes sense they’d be a part of uprisings just as much as riot cops, broken windows, tear gas, and incinerated cars would be. Whether riding for family fun in the park or overthrowing a racist police state, bikes belong!

Below are some of the most striking cycling images from the ‘Battle of Baltimore‘.

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Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 3.55.48 AM

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 6.11.23 AM628x471One set of images of a man in a gas mask riding around with his fist perpetually proclaiming black power showed up everywhere. This proved to be arguably the most inspiring, iconic image from the Baltimore uprising thus far.700_9idep9hnhfi86co1g3bi9sxa502othdhBS_md-baltimore-riot-p1-per1430180585-1024x681tumblr_nnhmvvFVWq1qzv3a2o1_500Perhaps my favorite series of images was from an organized ride of kids on BMX bikes. In true Critical Mass fashion, the juvenile group took the streets to disrupt motor vehicle traffic, occupying entire intersections in the process.

Seriously, if these BMX bandits don’t inspire you bust out your bike to go shut shit down, nothing will.tumblr_nnjcl56i9h1utmegno3_1280

Despite criticisms of the state and police violence, I like this last image. Whether this cyclist to cop fist-bump was meant to be genuine or ironic, it recalls images of the Vietnam war era where hippies stuck flowers down barrels of National Guard rifles. While passive, the act still serves to delegitimize state authority while recognizing the humanity of the person underneath the riot cop.

Most of all, the above image projects forgiveness. If we’re to evolve into a post-police society, we’re going to need a lot of compassion, and maybe a few more bikes.

See you in the streets.
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When I say, “abolish the police,” I’m usually asked what I would have us replace them with. My answer is always full social, economic, and political equality, but that’s not what’s actually being asked. What people mean is “who is going to protect us?” Who protects us now? If you’re white and well-off, perhaps the police protect you. The rest of us, not so much. What use do I have for an institution that routinely kills people who look like me, and make it so I’m afraid to walk out of my home? My honest answer is that I don’t know what a world without police looks like. I only know there will be less dead black people. I know that a world without police is a world with one less institution dedicated to the maintenance of white supremacy and inequality. It’s a world worth imagining.
~ Mychal Denzel Smith, from: Abolish the Police, Let’s Have Full Social, Economic, and Political Equality


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Editor’s note: From the numerous different sources sharing these images on Twitter, tracking down proper credit for each photographer proved to not be possible.

2 comments

  1. Please do not label the man in the gas mask the “most inspiring, iconic image” of this movement. He is the individual who cut the water hose of fire fighters trying to put out the flames engulfing the neighborhoods only pharmacy. The neighborhood stands behind the movement– NOT this man.

    1. As stated above, it was the image itself that was iconic, based purely on the number of times it’s been featured. I made sure to add the qualifier of “arguably”, as anyone is welcome to disagree. Thanks for adding some context to these events.

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