[messengers] The cyclo-martyrdom of Darcy Sheppard, and the real threat to bike couriers

Date: 30 Aug 2010 20:53:18 +0200
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>


 
Jonathan Kay of the right wing National Post boasts of his 3 summer vacations (he calls them years) as a courier to school Toronto messengers.
He says Al “initiated a violent confrontation” yet he also acknowledges that the main lesson is that “you shouldn’t hit the road drunk.” 
Think about that. Ramming your car into a cyclist isn’t initiating a violent confrontation. Responding to the assault is when a confrontation is initiated. 
The message that Navigator has convinced that traditional media to repeat is that ramming your car into a cyclist is a "minor incident" not a viloent assualt.
  
Jonathan Kay: The cyclo-martyrdom of Darcy Sheppard, and the real threat to bike couriers
National Post, August 30, 2010
 
It was a year ago tomorrow that Toronto bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard, then 33, was killed after he initiated a violent confrontation with former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant. As we later found out, Sheppard was a rageaholic on two wheels, with a history of violent confrontations with motorists. He’d provoked Bryant by reaching into his convertible Saab and grabbing the steering wheel. Bryant, whose wife was in the passenger seat, sped off, and Sheppard was thrown to his death. Charges against Bryant, for criminal negligence and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, were withdrawn after prosecutors concluded (properly, in my opinion) that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction. Bryant’s reputation was restored (albeit belatedly) and the path was cleared for him to return, honorably, to public life.
 
Yet in the year since Sheppard was killed, a cadre of his mourners insist that the privileged Bryant was the beneficiary of a conspiratorial cover-up. Even some mainstream journalists have helped create a sort of victim cult around Sheppard, presenting him as a road-safety martyr in the tribalized battle between vulnerable cyclists and nasty motorists.
 
Witness, for instance, Jennifer Yang’s article on the front-page of the Toronto Star‘s Tuesday city section, detailing a “memorial” bike ride staged on Sunday, by the city’s bike couriers, and led by Allan Sheppard, Darcy’s adoptive father. One of the organizers was Sonia Serba, who is quoted in Yang’s piece, and helped produce a rap-music video dedicated to the idea that Bryant got off the hook only because of his wealth and connections. “Another killer is walking the streets,” the video tells us. “Only, this one doesn’t wear gang colours. He drives luxury cars, and smokes fine cigars.” (The full lyrics appear here — and though I disagree with the premise of the video, I’ll admit some of them are clever.)
 
The death of Darcy Allan Sheppard was, indeed, a teachable moment — as his memorialists claim. But the main lesson has nothing to do with class warfare, or any imaginary “war” between cyclists and motorists. It’s actually just another reminder of what everyone already knows anyway: That you shouldn’t hit the road drunk.
 
Sheppard, an alcoholic, had at least twice the legal blood-alcohol level at the time he was killed — which was probably why he had the insane bravado necessary to reach out and grab the steering wheel of a moving car. In fact, as this article by the Sun’s Mark Bonokoski shows, alcohol addiction was the theme of Sheppard’s dysfunctional, unstable, crime-littered life. If anyone — including Toronto’s bike couriers — want to take a lesson from Sheppard’s death, it should be the rather obvious one that alcohol kills, on two wheels as much as four.
 
As far as road safety goes, I actually agree with Serba and her fellow bike activists that Toronto’s streets can be dangerous for cyclists. But the reason for this has very little to do with deliberate confrontations between cyclists and drivers: In this sense, the Sheppard case is quite unusual. The far greater threats are (1) careless drivers who open doors and shift lanes without checking for cyclists; and (2) reckless behaviour by bike couriers themselves.
 
For three years in the late 1980s, during my college years, I spent my summers as a bike courier in Montreal. (This was back before the days of email, or even the widespread use of faxes, so we had a lot of business.) Then, as now, there was a tendency among bike couriers to regard themselves as road warriors locked in tribalistic battle with hated morotists. But the attitude was hypocritical: The motorists weren’t running red lights, terrorizing pedestrians, or flipping back and forth from sidewalk to asphalt — we were. And we felt justified in doing so: In some implicit sense, we took our physical vulnerability vis-à-vis cars as a sort of moral license to flout the rules of the road, and even to flip off cars that almost hit us when we were stunting through an intersection.
 
In my years of bike couriering, I never once was the victim of a driver who hit me, or almost hit me, when he knew I was there. The only time I was run off the road, and into a fire hydrant, was when a Renault (I’m dating myself) drifted blindly into the right lane of Viger Avenue in anticipation of a right-turn. I also had several near-misses when parked motorists opened their doors without checking for bikes coming up behind them — which is why every downtown bike courier very quickly develops the habit of scanning parked cars for the silhouettes of human heads: If you see one, assume the door is going to open.
 
Like too many other stories, the death of Darcy Sheppard has been transformed into a quasi-Marxist tale of class warfare. It wasn’t that at all — but just a tragic reminder to obey the basic rules for survival on two wheels.
 
 



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