MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And now, a story about some local rabble-rousers on wheels and their fight with the folks who police our national parks. It's our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
If you've been to the National Mall, you might have seen these contraptions that look kind of like rickshaws being pulled by bicycles. They're known as pedicabs and they're a popular way for tourists to scoot from museum to museum and monument to monument. But behind all of this touristy fun is an ongoing and escalating conflict. As WAMU's transportation reporter David Schultz tells us, D.C.'s pedicab operators say they're the targets of an unfair police crackdown.
MR. DAVID SCHULTZ
This is a he said, she said story. The he in this situation is an officer with the U.S. Park Police. We don't know his name because they won't release it. The she is Sarah Roberts, a 22-year-old college student with a summer job hauling tourists around in a pedicab.
MS. SARAH ROBERTS
My first day was pretty challenging. I definitely got extremely dehydrated and I was, like, totally sore the next day and hardly could get out of bed, but it's really fun.
On the afternoon of June 14th, Roberts had just dropped off some customers at the Smithsonian American History Museum and her pedicab was stopped in crosswalk. What happened next is where the he said, she said begins. He, the police officer, speaking through park police spokesman David Schlosser, said he told Roberts to move her pedicab several times, but she wouldn't do it.
She says the police officer approached and with no explanation, demanded she show some ID. Like many pedicabers, Roberts has a fierce, independent streak, so she refused.
And I was just trying to understand the situation and he put a handcuff on me and kind of like dragged me over to the hood of his car.
Roberts said she would gladly have moved her pedicab had the officer asked. Instead, she ended up getting charged with failing to obey a lawful order, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
I definitely did not strike or go to strike the police officer at any time. I would never do that.
In fact, Roberts says, if anything, she was the one who was assaulted.
I mean, I have, like, a bit of the leftover scrape on my shoulder, but I feel...
Yeah, that's -- that looks pretty nasty.
It was like a road rash kind of thing, you know, kind of like a scrape and burn.
So how did this happen? How did a routine traffic stop end with a police officer saying he was assaulted and a college student facing some serious charges? Well, things are pretty tense right now between pedicabers and the police.
MR. MIKE POTTER
Yeah, the police are telling us that, you know, we can't be in certain places. We're supposed to act as taxis and stay in the taxi stands and then when we stand there they tell us that we can't stand there. It's just a lot of conflict.
Mike Potter is behind the handlebars of his pedicab on 15th Street NW, a block from the White House. Potter says police officers mainly with the Park Police have dramatically ramped up their pedicab enforcement this summer, doing more pullovers, writing more tickets.
Last year, I was out here and there was a little -- there were little issues, but not as much as this year already, you know. It started the season. I'm not sure why.
Why are police officers ramping up enforcement? David Schlosser, the Park Police spokesman, says they aren't.
MR. DAVID SCHLOSSER
Right now, we're not focusing on any specific enforcement action. We're focused mostly on an education campaign.
Schlosser says officers are simply approaching pedicabers and reminding them of the laws they have to follow.
We have many concerns with the pedicabs and our greatest concerns are safety issues. A lot of these pedicabs don't have proper lighting reflectors. The drivers don't have things, such as glow (word?) that type of thing so.
But many pedicabers say the Park Police's education campaign is really all about harassment. Mike Potter says he had a run-in with an officer the other day as he was dropping off a customer at the Air and Space Museum.
And the police officer came running up and said that if I took the money from them for my services rendered that he would arrest me.
What did you do?
I told the people to have a nice day. It wasn't worth getting arrested for $50.
Several other pedicabers we've spoken with say they've had the same thing happen to them, but David Schlosser says he hasn't heard anything about officers doing this and he says that's not standard operating procedure. Schlosser's department has been hit with a string of negative headlines in the past few weeks. In late May, Park Police officers used what some say was excessive force to break up a group of protesters dancing at the Jefferson Memorial. Apparently, it's illegal to dance there.
Then, last week, Park Police officers arrested and forcibly removed two journalists from a public meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission on the grounds they were illegally trying to record the proceedings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER
You can't arrest me for reporting.
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER
I can arrest you for not obeying an order.
I'm a reporter.
Spectators caught both incidents on tape and they are both under investigation. However, no one was filming when Sarah Roberts got arrested on the National Mall, at least as far as she knows. This is despite the fact that it was teeming with tourists at the time.
And there was actually some kids on a field trip who were kind of laughing, so that didn't make me feel very good about the world.
Roberts is still pretty shaken up by the incident and so is the small, tight-knit D.C. pedicab community. The pedicab industry isn't very lucrative. One hesitates to even call it an industry. But with their ability to work threatened by what they see as a police crackdown, pedicabers are trying to organize and some local law students have even offered pro bono representation. Roberts, meanwhile, is fighting the charges against her. She's still out on the street driving her pedicab, though a little less comfortably now.
In the last few days, when I've been out at work, I've definitely preferred to not be by myself.
And while it would be easy for Roberts to stand on principle and assert her rights after the fact, she says if she had to do it all over again, knowing what she knows now, she would have gladly done anything the police asked her to do.
I still feel like the fact that I got arrested and the way I got arrested is really unfair. But I also feel like if I had been better informed about, like, the gravity of the situation with the Park Police right now, then maybe I would have been a little more careful in dealing with that particular police officer because they are being really aggressive right now.
Whatever you want to call the Park Police's pedicab education campaign, Roberts just wishes she didn't get caught up in it. I'm David Schultz.
Up next, going against the grain on the stage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER
We have a really strong systemized regional theater machine and doing a Fringe Festival show has nothing to do with regional theater.
That and more, just ahead on "Metro Connection" here on WAMU 88.5.
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