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Man Stopped For Riding Bike On Sidewalk Was Using Stolen Divvy, Police Say — But Witnesses Say He Was Profiled

A witness said two officers in an unmarked SUV were the first to stop the cyclist, and another two officers in a squad car arrived shortly after that for back up.

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DOWNTOWN — A black man was arrested on Saturday night for riding what turned out to be a stolen Divvy bike on the sidewalk —  and witnesses are questioning how police handled the situation.

“I want to be really clear, people do bike on the sidewalk all the time. They [police] pulled right in front of him and started searching him and putting him in handcuffs,” said Eboni Senai Hawkins,  who watched the man get stopped and questioned by police and then taken away in a squad car.

Senai Hawkins said it took about 10-15 minutes from the time the man was stopped until he was taken away by police.

Senai Hawkins said the cyclist was going eastbound on the Chicago Avenue sidewalk in the same direction as herself and a friend, who were on foot. They were just west of the Magnificent Mile, approaching the intersection of Chicago and Rush Street at about 11:10 p.m Saturday.

“He came from behind us. We saw the SUV pull up and he had to stop. They blocked the curb to cut him off,” Senai Hawkins said.

She posted a photo of four police officers surrounding the lone man and the bike on her Instagram on Sunday.

In the photo, the man’s arms are behind his back and handcuffed. Hawkins said two officers in an unmarked SUV were the first to stop the cyclist, and another two officers in a squad car arrived shortly after that for back up.

Officer Patrick McGinnis, a Chicago police spokesman, confirmed the arrest and said a 22-year-old man was riding a Divvy on the sidewalk at about 11:10 p.m. Saturday.

McGinnis said the cyclist was headed eastbound on Chicago Avenue after turning off State Street when 18th District officers saw the man ride the bike on the sidewalk, a violation of a city municipal code that prohibits anyone over the age of 12 from riding on the sidewalk.

According to McGinnis, further investigation by the officers who stopped the man for riding on the sidewalk revealed the bike he’d been riding had been removed without payment from a Divvy dock at Roosevelt and Indiana earlier in the day on Saturday.

The man, from the 6300 block of North Sheridan Avenue, was arrested in the 800 block of North Rush Street. He was taken to criminal bond at 26th and California and was charged with one misdemeanor count of theft of lost/mislaid property, according to McGinnis, who said the man is scheduled to appear in Cook County Court Branch 29-2 on Sept. 18.

Another witness, a friend who was with Senai Hawkins and declined to be named said she asked police, “Why are you handcuffing him? You never read him his rights?”

The witness said police replied to her, “To detain him. Because he’s riding a bike on the sidewalk.” 

“They didn’t give him a chance. He started talking and trying to explain to police. He said someone else gave him the bike and he was only trying to go to Walgreens,” the witness said.

Senai Hawkins said she and her friend had attended a performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art earlier in the night and had just left a restaurant when they saw the man ride past them on the sidewalk and get stopped at the curb.

Senai Hawkins’ friend questioned why the man was stopped when they saw many other people riding bikes on sidewalks all night.

“The fact they stopped him, he was being targeted. Because he is black,” the witness said. 

Senai Hawkins said Divvy needs to get its technology together to prevent bike thefts from happening so easily.

“To have [the arrest] happen at same time they are trying to increase access [to bike sharing], that’s a system issue,” she said.

A spokesperson for Divvy declined to comment on the arrest but said that the Divvy system has existing software and hardware that monitors when and where riders take out and return bikes and charges riders for lost or stolen bikes.

The spokesperson said “security of Divvy’s bikes and stations is a top priority.”

“In response to a recent series of thefts of bikes from stations, we’re also retrofitting all of our docks with stronger, more tamper-proof lock mechanisms. Overall, Chicago residents have demonstrated a strong commitment to Divvy and the principle of bike sharing.  We are proud of Divvy’s success and look forward to continued growth and service to bike riders in Chicago,” the spokesperson said in a statement. 

Senai Hawkins, a South Shore resident and avid cyclist, is a co-founder of black urban cyclist community group Red, Bike & Green and participated in the now-defunct group from 2011-2015.

She’s also a Divvy member, though she is now encouraging black men who ride Divvy to be extra cautious.

“If you are a Black man, please DO NOT rent @divvybikes. If you must rent @divvybikes, DO NOT ride on the sidewalk or otherwise give a police officer a flimsy, bulls–t reason to stop you,” Hawkins said on Instagram.