People, Mobility, Place & Social Justice

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 2)

Through the Paper Window

My 아빠 (dad), 이 상 덕 (Sang Duk Lee), drove really fast. It wasn’t like he did it in a sports car, but he drove at high speed no matter if he drove our family’s ginormous Dodge camper van or economical Toyota Cressida. Despite accumulating a mountain of speeding tickets whose expense exasperated my frugal mom to no end, he drove as if he couldn’t wait another moment to get somewhere, or perhaps instead to run away from something unspeakable.

This again?

A scream of familiar heartbreak shattered my slumber. Blinking into consciousness, my body froze in dread as Jennifer repeated, “Oh no, oh no, oh no.”  Twice in the preceding two years, I heard these exact sounds from Jennifer when we improbably lost Rohan at 19 weeks and Nadia at 22 weeks into pregnancy. Wrenching upwards my reluctant body to the bathroom, Jennifer held out bathroom tissue soaked with bright red blood just as she had done so the year before.

Entangled in a recurring nightmare, we went through the motions to go to the hospital while despairing to say goodbye to our baby at 17 weeks into this pregnancy.  In the taxi, we silently held hands and I flashed back to the still moment when the doctor told us solemnly that Rohan had no heartbeat. My floating body also returned to when the doctor told us that Nadia was still alive, but they could not save her as she was coming too soon. I kept thinking, “This again?”  Weeping and holding a dead baby in our arms as we feel the body grow cold. Calling our parents and loved ones. Struggling with Jennifer in an avalanche of heartache, shame, anger, and guilt.  Going to a funeral home to make arrangements for our baby’s remains and being recognized by the funeral home director. I wondered how will we survive this?

At the hospital, an ER obstetrician examined Jennifer and we waited with bated breath for the bad news. The doctor’s probing hand came away bloody, but as if letting us in on a forbidden desire, the doctor told us quietly that the bleeding had stopped, and that Jennifer and the baby might be okay.  Stunned, we held each other as Jennifer repeated, “The baby might be okay. The baby might be okay.”

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Tale of Two E-Bikes

Tale of Two E-Bikes

In April 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City (NYC) announced that the City would allow people to ride pedal-assist electric bicycles (e-bikes) while continuing to police throttle e-bikes. The Mayor claimed that this would “increase options for delivery workers,” but because food delivery workers most commonly use Arrow e-bikes with both pedal-assist and throttle functions, their current e-bikes remain criminalized. The Mayor and NYPD justifies the criminalization of “dangerous” throttle e-bikes in the name of Vision Zero, yet they cannot provide any public safety evidence such as crash, injury, or fatality data (there is none) as justification. NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has stated that the safety hazard of e-bikes is “anecdotal” and that she does not have “great statistics” to support such claims.

Describing this new policy, Pedro Rojas, an immigrant Latino delivery worker said, “This new policy is unfair… The city is going to permit only some electric bikes, but not the ones that we, the workers, use.”

With this policy shift, we have seen the racist and classist spectacle of a Tale of Two E-bikes with NYC’s government celebrating the introduction of e-bikes for CitiBike and other corporate bikeshare options like Jump for privileged white-collar commuters while the NYPD continues to hunt for e-bikes used by food delivery workers, who are most commonly Asian and Latino immigrants.

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#VisionZeroApartheid Part 2: Police Officers on Every Corner

Martin Luther King Jr: “The richer we have become materially, the poorer we become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

In Part I, I introduced Vision Zero Apartheid, which is Vision Zero with policing in a racist society that results in the segregation of public safety.  In the previous essay, I focused on the impact of white fear in echo chambers on immigrant delivery workers and their e-bikes.  In Part II below, I write about the policing of immigrant delivery workers and e-bikes.

Police Officers on Every Corner

At one point in our combative conversation that I wrote about in Part I, Howard Yaruss (former Transportation Committee co-chair of Community Board 7 in the Upper West Side) suggested that he wanted police officers on every corner because of delivery workers. 

I was flabbergasted at this suggestion. Aside from the blatant racism in wanting NYC to waste  staggering resources to place police on every corner to target delivery workers and their e-bikes, NYC’s own collision and injury/fatality data shows no evidence of danger by delivery worker use of e-bikes. Simply put, e-bike riders in NYC have struck and killed zero people. Continue reading

#VisionZeroApartheid Part 1: White Fear, Echo Chambers & Immigrants

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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To Dismantle the Master’s Streets

“Cheating” E-Bikes

“I hate it when the guys on e-bikes zoom past me when I’m cycling up a bridge! It’s like cheating.”

I was talking about the absurdity of NYC’s electric-bike laws and its impact on delivery workers with a male NYC cyclist when he exclaimed his disgust with e-bike riders. Other bike activists have also told me that many male cyclists complain about e-bikes because they are “cheating” or not “real” cyclists.

It’s not hard to find this sentiment in the bicycling world. From Outside Magazine in 2014:

But the biggest flaws with e-bikes are physical and psychological. The bicycle is meant to be an endorphin-multiplier. In my mind, bike commuting’s big draw is burning calories on the way to your destination. Yes, an e-bike is better for the environment than your car, but in the end, you forgo a crucial part of the experience. You make yourself better, and stronger, when you ride a real bike.

By doing the hard work for you, e-bikes cheat people out of that accomplishment and ultimately make them lazier. They enable entitlement to motion and a sense of false accomplishment.

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Biking While Working Immigrant

At the Biking Public Public’s focus group with the Chinese delivery workers union, a delivery worker told us, “Seeing the police, we should feel safe. Instead we panic.”

In our work, we have spoken to numerous food delivery cyclists who feel like they are being unfairly policed.  Well, we’ve mapped NYPD data from 2007-2015 on criminal courts summonses/tickets issued for both commercial and non-commercial cycling infractions that you can see below.  You can toggle between different map layers and see specific data for each NYPD  precinct:

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Of Tumbleweeds

On a day like this, I find hope in the tumbleweed – more specifically the Rose of Jericho.  Much of the following is taken from some writing I did for a chapter in the book, Incomplete Streets, where I imagined how ideas and resistance might persist and spread under oppressive conditions.

Rose of Jericho

The Rose of Jericho as a tumbleweed. (Image source:

The Rose of Jericho is a tumbleweed located in regions of harsh dry conditions in North Africa and the Middle East.  When there is water, this plant grows into a bush with the height of six inches. When the water dries up, the plant curls up into a tight, brittle, dry ball with seeds laden in the sheltered interior and then, the tumbleweed lets go of the earth. At this point, the tumbleweed appears for all intents and purposes to be dead – a dried up shriveled ball of nothing alive. This tumbleweed gets blown by the desert winds in random directions and travels without a predetermined destination until the tumbleweed happens upon the life-supporting conditions of water.  Upon discovery of water, the Rose of Jericho suddenly springs back into life and as the seemingly dead plant quickly soaks in the water to unfurl itself with lush green arms and scatters its seeds. These seeds blossom into new Roses of Jericho that then get blown into unknown directions.

Rose of Jericho

The Rose of Jericho with water (Image source:

On a day like this, I understand what it means for our nation to elect a demagogue who revels in the domination of others and promises to eradicate the positive aspects of our nation’s first black president. That almost certainly, the next four years will be filled with heartache and hostile conditions for many of the values I cherish.

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“Han”-ted Riding

The Haunting of My Family

I know now that a ghost haunted my family’s dinner table.  Growing up, my mom prepared sumptuous Korean meals and in response, my siblings and I told her daily that the meal was masisseoyo (맛있어요).  But otherwise, silence ruled our meals as if an invisible dinner guest bound our tongues. Or perhaps instead the silence provided for a vacuum that the ghost filled.  Perhaps it was a bit of both.  As a result, I have only bits and scraps of the life stories of my parents and family.  This silence is apparently not uncommon in many immigrant Korean families as Grace Cho writes:

[su_quote]The second [Korean] generation, however, having grown up in the United States with neither their parents’ storytelling nor a public discourse about the Korean War, told a collective oral history in which they felt affected by some inarticulate presence that had left its imprint on what seemed to be their normal everyday lives. One man said that because of his parents’ refusal to talk about their life experiences, their past acted on his present. “For me,” he said, “it is not the past. It carries forward into my life. It carries forward into my sisters’ lives… as a hole.” This experience of the children of Korean War survivors – having been haunted by silences that take the form of an “unhappy wind,” “a hole,” or some other intangible or invisible force – reflects the notion that an unresolved trauma in unconsciously passed from one generation to the next.[/su_quote]

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Broken Windows

The shattering window rips the air with a violent, high pitched crack, sounding almost like a shocked cry, perhaps maybe a desperate plea – “don’t shoot!”

The window is placed and designed to divide them and us. Through the window, we can see them and they can see us. But the window segregates us from them so that we become foreign, even a threat, because the window is also a looking glass of power and privilege. So they sit behind their windows waiting for us. Walking in the street, ringing a doorbell for help after a car accident, selling cigarettes and CDs, not speaking English, reaching in our pockets, standing around, sitting on a public bench, carrying a legal gun, and numerous other everyday actions become twisted and menacing through these glass walls crafted with fear. Through the looking glass, we who are poor, we who have brown skin, we who are homeless, we who are not able-bodied, we who were not born in America, and many others are seen by them as muddying their perfect white picket fences.

The gross distortion of our small everyday moments becomes the excuse by which many of us are marked as “bad” guys who must be punished. To punish requires contact and these windows between us and them have been constructed by our society to be broken only through violence.  Thus the windows are broken with shocking thunder. In the moment of shattering glass, we finally come into deadly contact with them. And after the window is broken, all that remains are the shards of broken and all too often black and brown bodies on the ground.  The broken glass strewn on the street is not a sign of immoral disorder, but is instead a stigma of system that terrorizes and breaks marginalized bodies.

When the window is shattered, the glass shards fly out to grievously slash all those around it – we who bear witness, our local and national communities, and even me sitting at my desk typing this in New York.  As we tend to our wounds, we can let the shards be swept away and the window replaced just to be broken all over again. Or we can leave this window broken and begin instead to repair the contact between them and us.

Why I Write & Ride

The traffic cop screamed angrily at me, “Get your bike off the street!”

I had stopped at the middle of an intersection trying to make a left like a car in Manhattan as oncoming traffic streamed to my left and cars in my direction passed on my right.  How I was supposed to get my bike off the street safely with cars moving on either side of me, I had no clue.  I look back at the cop and said simply, “I’m just trying to make a left turn.”  The traffic cop just glared back at me with contempt and fury.

Logically, I had no safe way to immediately comply with the cop’s demand until there was a gap in the oncoming traffic where I could take the left safely.  So it wasn’t actually a reasonable and actionable demand, but rather the underlying meaning of the cop’s words was an assertion that I as a bicyclist do not belong in the street. Continue reading

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