James Baldwin: “White is a metaphor for power.”


What is Vision Zero Apartheid?  It is when we mix Vision Zero and policing within a racist society.

A system of white supremacy re-purposes Vision Zero to calm white fears of non-white bodies by using enforcement to impose punitive forms of racial control under the guise of public safety. We then see how public safety itself becomes an essential part of systematic segregation and discrimination in the street.  A system of white supremacy reshapes Vision Zero through policing into a racialized and class-based weapon where public safety becomes constructed as for rich white people from poor people of color. #VisionZeroApartheid

Illustrating the segregation of safety through policing, Manuel, Latino delivery worker, wanted to share in his words “this important message to the police”:

In this life we are all human beings, and sometimes I have felt that [the police] have discriminated me based on my color and for being Hispanic… They sometimes stop me and don’t stop others, which makes me feel bad… I know that sometimes I have asked for their help and they don’t give me attention. There are some instances that I have seen [people] rob delivery food from my friends or have robbed them [of money], and [the police] have not cared. I have noticed that when people with white skin or people who are residents or citizens ask for the help of police, the police act. And with us they don’t do that and I’m aware that I’m in a stranger’s country, but that shouldn’t make me less or make them more than they are.

I use the word Apartheid not to equate the atrocities of South African apartheid as the same as the oppression that NYC delivery cyclists experience, but as a way to describe how systems of discrimination and segregation flourish and evolve within racial capitalism, and that these systems are simultaneously transnational and local.   NYC Vision Zero is transnational because Vision Zero is an imported policy that originated in Sweden.  NYC Vision Zero is local in how we mold its policies, strategies, and implementation to fit the American and NYC contexts of systematic racism that uses policing as a tool for social and racial control.

Vision Zero Apartheid describes a situation now in NYC where: 1) NYC electric bicycle (ebike) riders do not cause many injuries, yet, 2) the City & NYPD have been using Vision Zero to police mostly immigrant delivery workers.  Thus far in 2017, in response to white fears about “dangerous” ebikes, the NYPD has already confiscated 923 electric bikes (ebikes) from immigrant delivery workers and ticketed them with nearly 1800 ebike criminal court summonses.  Since this is a criminal court summons, if the immigrant worker doesn’t show up in criminal court, an arrest warrant is issued for them.

Financially, since the most common ebike in delivery costs about $1400 new, the NYPD has in effect in 2017 thus far seized over a million dollars in property from low-wage immigrant workers.  Furthermore, since the fine for each ebike summons is a staggering $500-$1000, NYC has in 2017 thus far penalized immigrant workers for about another million dollars in ebike fines. This is an example of how Vision Zero Apartheid is brutal in dispossessing marginalized peoples who are excluded from the boundaries of safety that are defined by a system of white supremacy.  And we’ll also see that Vision Zero Apartheid inflicts systematic physical and emotional violence.

To discuss Vision Zero Apartheid, I am splitting up this topic into three blog posts:

  • Part 1: White Fear, Echo Chambers & Immigrants (this post): This how Vision Zero Apartheid controls public dialogues and processes about safety to only hear the privileged voices in echo chambers while silencing, ignoring, gaslighting, and neglecting voices from marginalized groups like immigrant delivery workers.
  • Part 2: “Reining Them In” Policing (here): How Vision Zero Apartheid manifests in policing that is part and parcel about social and racial control for the benefit of white supremacy.
  • Part 3: Intersectional Listening (Soon too!): How listening through an intersectional approach transgresses the defined boundaries of white supremacy, which allows us to take collective responsibility and to approach wholeness and liberation.

Borrowing a page from Tamika Butler, my disclaimer is that I will be talking explicitly about race and class among many things. For many of us, talking about race and class makes us feel highly discomforted.  I myself feel uncomfortable.  I have to resist the automatic urge to run from this discomfort because always being comfortable means that we don’t have to change anything, which makes it easy for us to participate and be complicit in systems of oppression.  Comfort is the status quo, an equilibrium.  Discomfort is dynamic and messy.  Discomfort is where the lived experience of oppression is located, but it is also where the struggle for collective liberation lives.

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