A Different Ride of Silence: Rich City RIDES
Last Thursday, May 18, was the day of the International Ride of Silence. In many cities—26 Californian cities, according to the California Bicycle Coalition—bike riders gathered to commemorate bicyclists and pedestrians who have died in traffic crashes. San Francisco was one such city. So was Richmond. But that city’s Ride of Silence was about a lot more than traffic violence.
In Richmond, riders gathered to remember four young people who died as a result of gun violence since 2016 began.
Najari Smith, founder of Rich City RIDES, wanted to create a Ride of Silence that acknowledged the serious problems that keep people not only from riding bikes in Richmond but that prevent young people from feeling safe in their own neighborhoods. “This event is part of the national annual Ride of Silence that brings attention to cyclists maimed or killed while riding on urban streets,” he wrote on the group’s Facebook page, “but Rich City RIDES is remixing it to address the needs of our community. In the Rich, my sisters and brothers are far too busy dodging beef and bullets to worry about car traffic and so for this, the fifth Annual Richmond Ride of Silence, we’re bringing the attention where it needs to be.”
Some people’s attention was still on car traffic. At Richmond City Hall, where the riders gathered before the ride, Alex Knox, representing the Mayor, pointed out that the city had seen no serious injuries or fatalities among bicyclists this year, “although we did have one dooring incident,” he said. The victim of the dooring spoke for a moment, reminding the gathered listeners that she was lucky. “Never assume that you are seen,” she said.
She was lucky, indeed. And she’s right—cyclists are safer when they are seen. But that is not always the case for everyone in the public space. For the four victims honored by Rich City RIDES this night, the problem wasn’t that they weren’t seen. All of them died as a result of the the kind of violence that won’t be fixed with traffic calming or bike lanes and road diets.
Which is why the community work being undertaken by Smith and Rich City RIDES is about much more than getting out on a bike on a balmy May evening and experiencing new, “safe” bike lanes. Smith spoke to the group of the importance of making biking safer, but also of making the entire city safe for all of its residents.
Reverend Donnell Jones of the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization offered a prayer and called for a moment of silence to honor the victims of gun violence, including a young man he had just visited in the hospital. He spoke with warm appreciation of Rich City RIDES and the way it is creating opportunities for youth in the city.
Alex Knox presented a Mayoral Certificate of Excellence to Najari Smith and Rich City RIDES “in recognition of the fifth annual Rich City Ride of Silence, which reflects on the pain and loss experienced by cyclists and other victims of violence in Richmond, and in appreciation of the leadership of Rich City RIDES in promoting health and wellness in our community.” Smith gathered together his crew of supporters and shared the award with them, thanking everyone for their hard work.
Later Knox added, “We really appreciate them organizing and putting together this event, and for expanding the Ride of Silence beyond the cycling community. It’s especially important to bring attention to these events, given the increase in violence.”
Smith has always wanted to do a lot more than just bring a bike shop to Richmond. His interest is in building community, and the shop is just one of several interconnected projects he’s been working on. He started by trying to help recover stolen bikes, and now finds he is running a bike and skate shop that is a nucleus for community activity.
At Rich City RIDES, local kids come in to learn about fixing and building bikes, and with regular attendance they eventually earn the right to build one for themselves. Smith gently encourages them—well, requires them—to get their homework done before they can participate.
Those kids also get to participate in the regular rides organized by Rich City RIDES, including its annual Solstice Ride, mountain bike rides with Dope Sauce Bike Club, and the monthly East Bay Bike Party, which sometimes requires a long BART ride but always draws a boisterous, happy group of riders from Richmond. Rich City is ever-present at community events, including Bike to Work Day and Earth Day, and its volunteers work with the local healthy community organization Urban Tilth on garden and park projects along the Richmond Greenway. One such project, in concert with Dope Sauce Bike Club, is a soon-to-be-built bike park for youth along the Richmond Greenway not far from the shop.
If Smith has his way, Richmond will be transformed by the energy of its youth, and of its bike riders.
Back at City Hall, the already diverse group of riders was joined by more people, among them city engineer Patrick Phelan, who co-led the ride, and two officers from the police department, who quietly escorted the group from the back.
The first stop made was on West MacDonald Avenue, where 15-year-old William Malik Barnes was shot and killed in March. The group gathered and paused for a moment of silence there to commemorate him.
But Richmond is far from a silent city. Some Rides of Silence are eery processions of serious-faced riders that cause pedestrians to pause and stare, but not this one. When the group pulled up, a group of kids playing behind the fence at the apartments where Barnes was shot ran towards the riders and shouted to each other with excitement and curiosity: “What are they doing?” “Look at all those bikes!” “Why do they have POLICE following them?” And finally, “Why is everyone so quiet?” and “Shhhh,” their eyes widening at the large group of people standing in silence.
When the moment ended, Smith reached in his pocket for some stickers to give to the kids. As the group rode away, they waved and called out, “Can we ride with you next time?” and “Bye, polices!”
At the next stop, a guard dog nearly drowned out Doria Robinson’s description of the shooting death of 16-year-old Mauriana Seymore in her apartment nearby. A woman shouted on the other side of the busy street, and cars and trucks rumbled past. In fact, between barking dogs, crowing roosters, chugging and hooting freight trains, and the beeping BART, there never really was a moment of complete silence during the entire ride.
Two more stops, two more moments of stillness, if not silence: for 26-year-old Reginald Atkinson, shot at a gas station, and 14-year-old Xavier McClanahan, who was killed where the Richmond Greenway meets a pedestrian bridge over the BART tracks.
The ride flowed through quiet neighborhood streets and along busy arterials, along brand-new bike lanes and a road diet (before being dumped back into the reality of heavy traffic on four-lane roads). The Richmond Greenway and its gardens and coming-soon-bike-park made a pleasant car-free place to ride, albeit strewn in some areas with broken glass.
Towards the end of the route, rider Jeanette Juniel spoke up. She’d stuck with the entire ride, despite a knee brace and her nervousness about a steep incline next to fast-traveling cars that the group had to negotiate twice.
“I gotta get this out,” she said, then proceeded to tell the story of a family member who had been shot and killed in Richmond. “You think you do, but you never know what it feels like until it happens to you,” she said. The group paused one more time to offer a moment of silence for her, and her family, and for the city of Richmond, which is trying very hard to change its story.
As the riders made their way back to the shop, there was one more unscheduled stop. Isabella Zizi caught sight of a bike that had been stolen from her sister’s back yard three days before. Surrounded by a group of bike riders, who happened to be accompanied by two police officers, the guy who had bought the bike did not protest when she reclaimed it.
“That’s bike recovery number eighteen for Rich City RIDES,” said Smith, once it was safely back at the shop, and the riders were preparing to share a pizza.