On Friday evening, after two post-work pints, I cycled home from Manchester to my home in Salford, as I do most evenings. The weather, like most evenings, was shit; cold and wet - neither of which I was particularly dressed for, but it’s a relatively short ride and dry clothes and a curry awaited me.
It was less than 1/2 a mile from my home, one left turn away from my road, that my ‘ordeal’ happened. Cycling down the hill, out of the door zone or away from the slippery mulch in the gutters. The first cause for alarm was a car that had sped up dangerously close behind me, and was now aggressively beeping it’s horn at me. At this point, we’re going downhill on a residential street and I’m probably doing 15-20mph in the wet. I had nowhere to go to avoid the car (a nervous lifesaver glance identified a new white Audi A3) so I carried on until there was space to pass.
As I pulled in, the car pulled alongside me, dangerously close, in what would be termed a ‘punishment pass’ and in an adrenaline fuelled reaction, I gave the finger as the window came down and the driver, a young white (more on why this is relevant later) male yelled “WHAT THE FUCK YOU DOING?” across the girl in the passenger seat.
He then sped off in front of me before braking sharply and veering into the curb, boxing me in. I had no option to mount the kerb (fortunately there was a dropped kerb to a driveway saving the risk of having to jump it) and rapidly slowed down.
Same thing happens again, but this time, his car is now pretty much on the kerb. I’m almost at the corner of my road now and I’m now also worried that I’m going to get followed to my front door.
As I rounded the corner, still not far from the car, I heard the driver’s door open and the driver yell “COME HERE YOU FUCKING PAKI BASTARD”. I’m now pretty much in panic mode and get round the corner as quick as possible, not looking back.
At the top of my road there’s a little alleyway which leads to cobbled ginnel between the two streets, which the gardens back onto. Not wanting to attract this lunatic to my front door where I would have to fumble with keys, I take the alleyway - turning my bike lights off as quickly as possible. Slipping over wet cobbles like a Belgian classic. When I do get to the back of my house, I can’t see or hear anything, but I’m not looking to hang about and wait. I threw my bike over the 6ft gate and climbed over after it.
It wasn’t until I got inside that the scale of what happened hit me. I sketchily mumbled some details to my girlfriend and lodger who let me in, then went upstairs and had a shower. When I got out, I’ll be honest, I had a cry. I was shaking with rage that someone would try and do that to me, completely unproked, that I would feel so threatened practically on my own doorstep, that someone would still use the word ‘Paki’…
My mumbled details were cause for concern enough for my girlfriend to report the incident to the police, I learned when I got back downstairs after attempting to compose myself. Publicly and privately, I’m not the police’s biggest fan, and having no registration number or any details about the driver, I didn’t anticipate any further action to be possible; but as a result of her conversation with 101 – I was informed I should go to the station in the morning and report it.
I had also tweeted a stream of anger and shock, some of which I deleted soon after; when my sweet and often naive, but more often sensible, girlfriend suggested some of it could have had me in hot water… but most remained. I was genuinely touched by the response from people I do and don’t know in real life who sent me tweets, DMs and texts.
The following morning, I phoned the police station as I wasn’t spoiling a Saturday morning by going there. The policeman I spoke to insisted that they needed to speak to me, to get my signature to say I didn’t want to follow it up. I said there was little point as I had no details of the car, no CCTV footage etc, but he ignored this twice and referred to it as a racist/hate crime, and that “they had to be seen to be doing something against it.”
Not doing something, but to ‘be seen to be doing it’. A subtle but important distinction.
I said I wasn’t going to come to the station, although this meant they would have to send someone to my house, which was still shit. They said they’d be round in one hour.
Hoover, shower, get dressed.
I didn’t ask the cop’s name, but he got his notebook out and confirmed a few things that my girlfriend had reported the previous evening. He, like the officer on the phone, was focused on the racial aspect of it.
What I repeatedly had to explain to him was that;
- The catalyst for the attack was me as a cyclist, not as an ethnic minority.
- I was reporting a driving incident, regardless of words that came out of his mouth.
- I would not phone the police if someone shouted the words ‘paki’ to me.
The police patronisingly explained to me that the racial abuse added extra weight in the courts and therefore longer sentencing. I understand this, it’s an area of the law relevant to my work; however the more serious thing is that someone tried to kill me with their car, not that someone called me a paki.
This went round and round for a while, my prickly attitude was noted. I said whilst I don’t speak for all cyclists, I don’t have any faith in the police or the courts when it comes to looking for cyclists safety. In fact, barring the racial abuse, a police car which had breached an ASL did exactly the same thing to me, but at least that time I didn’t think I was going to get my head kicked in.
For what it’s worth, I am an experienced cyclist, I always have my lights, I sometimes wear a helmet, sometimes don’t. I’m trained to ride leader level with Bikeability, and a member of different cycling communities. I also drive a car, and sometimes, ugh, have to take the bus.
I asked the officer if someone had driven alongside me at a safe distance, wound their window down and called me a paki, before driving off safely, would it be considered more serious than last night’s actions but without the racial abuse.
He looked a bit embarrassed to say basically, yes, and ‘as a former motorcyclist’ he claimed he understood my frustration.
I said he didn’t. I told him that police have a long history of failing ethnic minorities, and seemingly have little regard for the rights of cyclists and that the meeting had come to an end. The incident would become a racist hate crime statistic. I morbidly joked that if I’m killed by the driver of a white Audi A3 that it should be racially aggravated murder, not an ‘accident’, although I’m sure a judge would find a way to let them off with a few points and fine.
If you’ve read this far, fair play. Nearly finished. This was probably the scariest incident I’ve had in thousands of road miles. The abuse is shit, but I’m less worried about it, I’m pretty sure if I was white he would driven the same, and yelled something else. Most people don’t drive like assholes, and everybody is just trying to get somewhere. Are you in so much of a rush that you’d willingly risk injuring or killing someone?
The upside of the story is that I wasn’t physically harmed, and I felt the kindness and sympathy of friends and strangers. The moral, if there is one, is to not be an asshole on the roads, however you get about. You could even extend that to not being an asshole in general but let’s take it one step at a time.
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