Police in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, arrested one teen and seized bicycles from a group of friends in a scuffle over traffic violations and a failure to register their bikes with the state, according to a viral video. It's yet another example of the effects of overcriminalization, which increases interactions between civilians and police with little benefit to actual public safety.
We can't even ride bikes now… I'm not surprised. I'm just angry. pic.twitter.com/xcAR8zmnuP
— Caramel Skin Ass Dude. (@deep_dab) April 19, 2021
"I told you guys you're supposed to have licenses," one officer says in the clip as the cops attempt to get the boys to surrender their bikes. "The sergeant warned you about your bikes, so you guys are warned. I gave you a warning."
One teen gives in. "Drop the bike or you're gonna get arrested too," says another cop in the background, addressing the other boys who are slower to dismount.
In a longer video posted to YouTube, the boys are repeatedly promised that they won't lose their bikes. The teen who first complied is then arrested, and all of their bicycles are taken by the cops.
"You know that we told you guys to stay on the sidewalk," the cop says in a video exchange with one of the teens who filmed their conversation when he returned to get his bike. "You guys knew that you were going against traffic. It is for your safety. You think I want to be here taking bikes away? Like, this is so asinine. Like, we have so much better stuff to do with our time."
She is correct on most counts. It is asinine, and the Perth Amboy Police Department definitely has better stuff to do with their time.
But she didn't stop there: "Is your bike registered with us? I don't have to give it back to you," she notes, harking back to the licensing scuffle referenced during the first confrontation. "You have the receipt to prove that that bike is your bike? I don't have to give it back to you."
They did, in fact, give the bikes back. But not before taking the opportunity to flex some state power over trivial matters like minor traffic infractions and bike registrations.
New Jersey does not require residents to register their bikes. Perth Amboy does, however. According to local law, a bicycle must be registered for any purpose, whether you're renting it out or it's your personal vehicle.
"No person shall ride, operate or propel a bicycle upon any street or other public highway in the city without first obtaining and having secured and attached to such bicycle a proper license tag as hereinafter provided," the statute reads.
"We live way in Edison, cuz," says the arrested teen as he is handcuffed and placed in a police cruiser. "We live way in Edison."
In theory, such a rule exists to help you if your bike is stolen. In this case, though, it became yet another tool in the police department's arsenal to wield power over a group of teens.
Such interactions further degrade trust in law enforcement, who, as the cop in the video admits, should be off doing more important things. (At least six officers were on the scene to address the traffic infractions and bike licenses.) These types of interactions can—and do—sometimes turn deadly. A woman called the police after observing that Ramon Lopez, a Phoenix man, was loitering, "jumping around," and wearing "ripped pants" in a parking lot. He was chased by police, pinned on searing hot asphalt, and later died.
As a rule, victimless crimes should be of little interest to the state. For whatever the government chooses to zero in on, they must feel comfortable using deadly force. Is a minor traffic violation or a bike registration really worth it?