Tomorrow, May 17th, Paige Connors and Alex Hayes stand trial for trespassing, a charge they incurred by visiting friends in the Randolph neighborhood and locking their bicycles up to a street sign behind the home of Richmond police officer, Percy Smith. The hostile treatment the bicyclists received prompted them to post their account online, which has since led to several follow-up stories here and in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Since the incident and the revelation that the police officer was pressing charges for trespassing, the officer received a promotion, and the police department have not made any public comments on the matter. There has been speculation that the Richmond Police Department has been conducting its own internal investigation on the matter prompted by a city councilperson. How this might affect the city’s prosecution of Alex and Paige, is not clear. The bicyclists will be represented, pro-bono, by the local law firm, Benjamin and Desportes.
Some citizens feel the issue comes down to discrimination against bicycling. Michael Gilbert, a spokes person for bicycling advocacy group, RideRichmond, says “A healthy city is a diverse city, and a diverse city is one that doesn’t pigeon-hole its citizens into one mode of transportation. Even with all the positive work accomplished by the City’s PBT Commission, we at RideRichmond are deeply saddened by Officer Smith’s actions as they are not conducive toward creating the healthy and diverse city that all citizens of Richmond wish to enjoy.”
Tensions in the Randolph neighborhood are also at the core of this issue. “…this episode isn’t about signs or bicycles. It’s about a still-simmering clash of cultures in Randolph between transient VCU students and longtime residents who view the students as loud, obnoxious and destructive,” wrote Michael Paul Williams in his Richmond Times-Dispatch column. “You’d hope law enforcement’s role would be that of a referee, not a participant.”
Anyone care to predict how this will shake out? What’s the best PR move for the City at this point?