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Oakland Police Throw Rich City Rides’s Najari Smith in Jail

Najari Smith and his rig, from East Bay Bike Party’s Facebook post

This past Friday, August 3, Najari Smith, founder and executive director of Rich City Rides, was leading a group of young people to a Friday Night Bike Party ride, sometime between 8:30 and 9. He was towing his music system on his bike when he was arrested by Oakland Police, in or near the parking lot of the Taco Bell in downtown Oakland, ostensibly for playing loud music.

Streesblog talked with Smith, now out on bail after spending the weekend in jail, briefly via cell phone as he was on his way to pick up his impounded bicycle this morning from the Oakland Police Traffic Division. "I’m not pleading guilty, I have no intention to," he said. Smith was reluctant to discuss details of the case before consulting with an attorney. His hearing is set for August 31.

Streetsblog also spoke with Jennifer Rougeaux, a friend of Smith's who posted on Facebook about the incident and had a copy of the citation. Rougeaux said the citation listed "CVC 27007 Sound Amp" as the only charge. That refers to a portion of the California Vehicle Code that states that "No driver of a vehicle shall operate, or permit the operation of, any sound amplification system which can be heard outside the vehicle from 50 or more feet when the vehicle is being operated upon a highway."

So how does a citation for playing loud music translate into an arrest?

"That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I’ve got multiple tickets for playing music, but why was he incarcerated?" asked Reginald 'RB' Burnette of the Original Scraper Bike Team in a phone interview with Streetsblog. RB, who was there when the arrest went down, said he was with a group just finishing up a memorial ride for Nia Wilson, the young woman who was murdered on BART last month. Afterwards, RB, Smith, and others met up at the Taco Bell on Grand and Telegraph to start a First Friday Night Bike Party ride. He said there were about 30 riders total. "We were going to leave, before we could do that a group of Oakland PD bum rushed him and took his bike."

From RB's account and the Facebook post, it seems tensions mounted because riders were outraged at the aggressive way the cops approached them. Smith tried to de-escalate, but ended up arrested for reasons that are still unclear (or perhaps all too clear). Rougeaux and others are trying to track down video of the incident. Please post below if you were there or have links to video.

Meanwhile, Streetsblog has inquiries out to the Oakland Police Department and Mayor Libby Schaaf's office about Smith's arrest and will update this post accordingly.

UPDATE: At 6 p.m., the OPD issued the following statement in response to the incident:

On Friday, August 3, 2018, following the First Friday event, Oakland Police officers observed Mr. Smith impeding traffic at the intersection of W. Grand and Telegraph by taking over the intersection on his bike and continuously riding in circles. OPD officers had been trying to clear that intersection for vehicular traffic movement and Mr. Smith’s actions interfered with that effort. In addition, Mr. Smith had a sound system that was heard over 50’ which is also an infraction of the California Vehicle Code section 27007. OPD officers made contact with Mr. Smith to issue a ticket for the infractions. Mr. Smith refused to provide identification or any information that would assist the officers in identifying him to issue a ticket for the violation. The officers also advised Mr. Smith that if he refused to provide identification in order to cite and release him, they would be required to arrest him, as is required by California Vehicle Code section 40302. Smith continued to refuse to provide identification several times and was arrested pursuant to Penal Code section 148. After he was taken into custody, Mr. Smith repeatedly provided false information to the officers trying to identify him.

Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director of Bike East Bay, said police departments in Oakland and San Leandro often target the Bike Party rides. "Oakland police do not have the appreciation of the importance of riding bikes in a celebratory ride and why that’s important and why it should be accommodated."

He added that Smith's arrest falls into a pattern of excessive traffic stops of cyclists and especially people of color in Oakland. He sent Streetsblog an analysis, based on a Stanford study of Oakland Police traffic stop crime data, that Bike East Bay did back in 2017:

How much more likely are you to be stopped when biking while Black? A lot more likely, according to a study from Stanford University. Analyzing the 2014 traffic stop data from the Oakland Police Department (OPD), researchers found that of the 1,081 bicyclists stopped by police in 2014, 73% were Black. Police stopped six Black bicyclists for every white bicyclist detained. This number is disproportionately high compared to both the biking population and the general population of Oakland, which is 28% Black.

The analysis, penned by Bike East Bay Education Director Robert Prinz and Executive Director Ginger Jui, also found that "...police were much more likely to handcuff Black people during a traffic stop. According to the Stanford study data, Black bicyclists stopped in West Oakland were three times more likely to be handcuffed than white bicyclists in that neighborhood."

Smith, meanwhile, has this written about him, and community bike rides, on the Rich City Rides web page: "Najari believes in using bicycles to unite neighborhoods and community members throughout the entire Bay Area by creating the biggest bicycle celebrations this city has ever had. These events make the city of Richmond noticeable to the rest of the Bay Area while increasing the pride of its own residents.... I just want my people to be happy, healthy, and interconnected.”

For more on Smith, be sure to check out this Streetsblog California feature from 2016.

During this morning's brief phone call, Smith told Streetsblog that he wants "as many people as possible to come to my August 31st court date, at 9 a.m. [Dept. 112, Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse, 661 Washington St, Oakland]. If folks want to come out, I’ll be willing to talk to folks at length about what happened at that time."

Rich City Rides has also posted a Facebook events page for the hearing.

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