Lionel Shriver

Cyclists have become an easy police target

21 February 2020

10:00 PM

21 February 2020

10:00 PM

Most Britons assume at the outset that any misfortune involving a cyclist is the cyclist’s fault. After all, many a two-wheeled hellion has earned contempt. But put aside the understandable cynicism. This is not one of those stories.

A week ago, I was cycling around Buckingham Palace while some low-key royal whatnot was pending but not under way. The vicinity was closed to traffic but not to bikes. As usual, I was heading for Hyde Park Corner via Constitution Hill, because the bike path on the right-hand side in Green Park is insensibly ‘shared use’ — meaning, teeming with pedestrians, and I see no point in our inconveniencing one another.

As I passed, an officer shouted ‘Cyclist!’ and then barked something I couldn’t make out. What with the awaiting royal whatnot, I figured the best thing was to continue to leave the area. He shouted a second time: Ah. He wanted me to exit on the bike path, then milling with hundreds of tourists, not on the deserted road. Fine. I duly curved right towards the crowded so-called cycle lane — slowing to avoid pedestrians crossing against the light. Altogether, the barking/hesitation/more barking/compliance took 15 seconds.

Having slowed for those pedestrians would have made me a doddle to catch up with — since before I knew it, this crazed cop was cycling feverishly from behind on my right, pulling alongside within two inches of my bike, corralling me as if herding cattle. Because I was already curving right — doing exactly as he’d requested — a collision was inevitable. I landed hard, smack on the tarmac, on my knee. For the next minute or two I was in agony, clawing the blacktop with my fingernails. I barely choked out: ‘Why did you do that?’ Staggering to a stand merely facilitated being drilled with my little lecture. I had failed to follow his directions, which was

an offence. He was clearing the Queen’s highway for the ‘troops’ (nowhere in sight, and as numerous other cyclists merrily took Constitution Hill during my dressing down, the urgency of removing bikes from the street appeared to have evaporated). I was only allowed access to the Royal Parks at the sufferance of the Royal Parks, and I was now a candidate for banishment from the Royal Parks for up to 12 months. (Now, how do you figure they’d enforce that? Big posters nailed on tree trunks: ‘Wanted: Cyclist Who Follows Orders Five Seconds Too Late; Apprehend On Sight!’) He did not express any regret for having knocked me violently from a moving vehicle on to the tarmac on purpose. He expressed no concern for my wellbeing.

What I should have done, and have impotently rehearsed all week, was demand his identification in order to lodge a formal complaint, in which I would report him for reckless cycling, disproportionate policing and assault. But anyone who’s dealt with law enforcement knows what came next instead: the toady two-step. This young, poncey, pasty rookie was poised with a pen over his sheaf of stencils, and I needed to skip the summons folderol (for doing nothing) to make an upcoming doctor’s appointment. So I abased myself with the usual rim job. Despite the fact that this guy mowed me down, endangered my property and did me grievous bodily harm, I apologised to him. By the following day, my knee had doubled in size. I could barely walk. My shoulder was injured. My hip was bloodied and bruised, and I still can’t sleep comfortably on that side. And for what? Is the fine

citizenry of this great land any safer? What was at issue wasn’t even the smooth conduct of another empty bit of royal theatre, but obeisance to this insecure twat and his petty authority.

I’m five foot two, scarcely over seven stone, white and female. I submit: had I been six foot four, burly, male and God forbid non-white, my assailant would have thought twice about giving chase and flattening me across the roadway. In fact, if I’d just had the good sense to steal a mobile phone, I might have seemed the measure more menacing that would have allowed me up the road unmolested.

British law enforcement goes for soft targets. I’ve every admiration for officers who bravely put their own safety on the line to protect us. But statistics suggest that valour is rare. Last year, the proportion of UK criminal offences solved was a meagre 7.3 per cent. Only one in 400 car thieves is successfully caught and prosecuted. The chances of a non-car theft resulting in a charge is 5.4 per cent, plummeting 1.3 per cent for personal theft. Arrest rates for reported rapes, burglaries and violence against the person are all way under 10 per cent. Only one in nine Britons has faith that the cops will solve their case — given the negligible odds in reality, a percentage that’s surprisingly high.

Meanwhile! The police have now pursued 120,000 ‘non-crime’ hate incidents, ‘irrespective’, according to Hate Crime Operational Guidelines, ‘of whether there is any evidence to identify the hate element’. This includes the police persecution of Harry Miller over a tweeted ‘transphobic’ limerick, of all things, ruled last week a lawful expression of free speech. In the past five years, 2,500 people in London alone have been arrested for sending ‘offensive’ messages on social media.

Pursuing criminals is scary. They don’t do as they’re told. Ring their doorbells, and they abscond through the back, or poke a gun from a first floor window. By contrast, the broadly law-abiding open the door with ‘Good afternoon, officer, what can I do for you?’ and tremulously proffer tea. Protective of reputation, they’re easy to frighten and fun to intimidate. So lazy policing picks on the compliant. Hardly apt to pull a knife, a short, shrimpy, ageing female who brakes for pedestrians in Green Park was an easy mark.

As for you, my officious young Turk, from whose hubris I still walk with a limp?

I doubt you read The Spectator. Pity. I’d have relished telling you from the shelter of the page just how much I hate you.

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