City Desk

Bike Stealing Can Bring Out Racism

Someone has finally discovered post-racial America's deepest darkest secret: It's racist.

Nsenga Burton of The Root notes that the show What Would You Do?—a gimmicky program that runs sociological experiments, Candid Camera-style—discovered this distressing news when it dispatched two fake bike thieves to a predominantly white park. The scenario produced heinous, if also somewhat hilarious, results:

The men were dressed the same and had tools to break the locks off of the bikes which were located in an exposed area. Each man attempted to steal the bike in broad daylight. The white "thief" was allowed to go about his business pretty much unbothered, even breaking out an electric saw to draw more attention, because people failed to stop him. Over 100 people passed by and only one couple attempted to contact authorities. Someone even wished him good luck. The black bicycle "thief," not so much. He was surrounded immediately, yelled at and people were whipping out cell phones and snapping pictures of the "thief."

Watching the video below, the black bike thief looks a little younger than the white thief, and the white thief is bigger (more intimidating?) than the black thief, that's about it for variables. The footage seems to reach a shameful pitch at the point when white parkgoers, confronting the black thief, clump up. It's not exactly a mob, but it certainly reminds you of one.

Once, I interviewed a D.C. bike thief who happened to be black. The pilferer operated in Capitol Hill and Georgetown, where he stole bikes, he explained, from the rich and sold them to mostly poor African Americans and Latinos. He'd been doing it for years, and had never been so much as challenged. The key, he revealed, was that he never touched locked bikes, only unlocked ones, so that as he made off with the merchandise there was no reason to suspect him. He looked like a guy picking up his wheels. If he found a bike that he needed that was locked (he took orders from customers who sometimes wanted a certain kind) he called in his buddy, a "Spanish" guy with light skin. His partner was usually able to pry the lock off without being questioned.

The fact that we link criminality to race is pretty pathetic. In the What Would You Do? clip, note how the white thief begs for a confrontation, only to find that people are unwilling to even be rude to him. White privilege is that overpowering. ("I guess I have to ask, is that your  bike?" "I guess, technically, no." "O.K.")

On the other hand, the black thief gets his tools stolen by a white-haired gentlemen who obviously saw Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.

To be clear, the Clint Eastwood-wannabe was doing the right thing. But people like him need to be equal opportunity bad-asses, fighting crime no matter what the criminal happens to look like.

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  • Rick Mangus

    Let's see, DO THE MATH!

  • Mike Madden

    Do what math, Rick? The math that shows, according to federal statistics, the vast majority of people arrested for theft/larceny, burglary, and receiving stolen property are white?

  • anon

    @Mike: 80% of US pop is white and 12% of US pop is black, so the math is not as clear as you are presenting it. If both races were equally likely to commit the crime, you would expect to see the same percentages.

  • Mike Madden

    Well, those stats are about arrests, which are presumably influenced by the same attitudes displayed in the video...

  • act

    what are the reactions of people in a predominantly black park?
    or how about in a park with a more balance demographic?

    in the setups, what happens when people call the cops? are the police notified ahead of time?

  • Rick Mangus

    'Mike Madden', don't get your panties in a twist, DC has what, a majority black population, so the majority of the crime in this town is committed by blacks. It's a statement of fact!

  • noodlez



  • Dr Pangloss

    Once, I interviewed a D.C. bike thief who happened to be black.

    Ah, yes. The DC bike thief who just "happened" to be black. Given that 99% of the bike thieves in DC *are* black, the odds were certainly in favor of that happenstance.

    You live in DC. All of the poor folks are black. None of the white folks are. That sucks, and reflects poorly on our nation as a whole, but don't shoot the fucking messenger.

    Try this experiment in some economically depressed rural area, and I'd bet the results would be quite different.

  • NY

    This would have been a great experiment except that they screwed it all up. The white guy was too All-American and working class, you could see him having a bag of tools like that because he looks like he just came from his job on a construction site. The black guy is much younger and dressed in baggie clothes and low jeans and his hat falling off his head. The two were too dissimilar to base an accurate conclusion on.

    They should have had the same white guy go against a younger, smaller, white guy also dressed with the EXACT same clothes as this black kid, or maybe dressed in a more rough looking white boy style, I do not know exactly what that would be, but not the guy who they used. You might get as big a difference in reaction between the two whites as you did with the white and the black. Then you would have to test two equally dissimilar blacks and then a white and a black that are equally similar in style.

    I agree that most likely there would be a bigger reaction to the black than the white, but this is as flawed and biased an experiment as I have ever seen. A good idea executed as poorly as the Iraq Invasion.

  • Dr Pangloss

    I also love that the white Chris Farley looking white guy is all "no not exactly" while the much younger black kid is sticking his tongue out and flashing gang signs. Where's his Glock?


  • SEdcDude

    I ABSOLUTELY love the fucking excuses made by WHITES in this thread..........that's what's more interesting!

  • D

    As someone who has had 10K worth of items and damage against my property in the past few months, let me confirm the buy-line of your article. You are damn right that I am feeling racist about things...

    It isn't white people who are stealing from me...bullying me... and making me feel defenseless.

    So here is my proposal:
    As soon as black people stop stealing my property and breaking the windows on my car...I'll stop hating them.

  • wallfly

    This is about bikes, not skin. Non cyclists don't value bikes, otherwise the penalty for bike theft would be the same for burglary or car theft, and prosecuted just as vigorously. Example? The owners of the office building Columbia Square at 12th and F Street in downtown DC send out their building management with bolt cutters to remove bicycles that are locked outside their building to the (public) trashcan at the southern escalators into Metro Center. What is that if not theft? I have no idea what color the owner of that building is, but I do know he or she is an ass and he's trained the employees the same way. As soon as the building owners stop attempting to steal my property, I'll stop hating them.