Discrimination, often a good thing, often gets a bad name. Fair-minded though you are, you support laws that discriminate.
You discriminate against 10-year-olds in your support of laws that say they can’t vote or consume alcoholic beverages or drive cars or get married. Makes sense.
Our gun laws discriminate about who can own guns. You think that’s a good idea. Me, too.
Discrimination can be good. Discrimination can be bad. Discrimination can be legal. Discrimination can be illegal. Our laws ban discrimination in commerce based on characteristics such as age, gender, sexual orientation and race.
I don’t think our laws ban discrimination based on occupation. So, what are we to make of local bicycle shop Mellow Johnny’s decision to stop selling bikes to cops?
“For the past eight years I have had the (good) fortune of buying and purchasing equipment for the Downtown Area Command Bike Patrol and our bicycle public order team,” the Austin Police Department’s Christopher Carlisle wrote Tuesday in a since-removed public Facebook post. “We have 158 bike officers in DTAC and have been purchasing our bikes from Mellow Johnny’s bike store in downtown Austin, a local business.
“Today I received a call from the sales manager I have worked with for years at MJ’s. He informed me that they have three employees who work for them that are complaining about providing bikes to the police department in this time of social unrest in protests and disturbances. They stated to ownership that they did not like the fact that we use bicycles to help us manage crowds and crowd movement.”
In a statement released Wednesday night, the bike store said “It’s difficult in these times to balance the needs of a business and a community.”
“Our entire employee group was engaged in this dialogue and we delved deep into our community to understand how we could best do our part to keep our customers safe and this city moving in the right direction,” the statement said, adding, “Businesses can no longer be non-participants in the communities they serve. We chose what we think will do the most to suture these divides and place our community on the right side of history.”
The statement made no specific allegations of police misuse of the bikes.
“We are not anti-police,” the store said. “We do believe our local police force will protect us from the very threats we are receiving right now.”
I also sought input from the Police Department but have not heard back from it. And Carlisle said he could not talk with me while he was on duty Wednesday.
Mellow Johnny’s was founded by and is co-owned by Lance Armstrong. You know all about him. In 2018, the Austin store stopped selling bike accessory lines owned by a firearms manufacturer that was an NRA sponsor.
Back to Carlisle, who created the Police Department’s Bicycle Crowd Management Team in 2016:
“The ownership of MJ’s has decided to listen to three employees and is sending APD an email canceling the four years left on our contract because three employees do not like police officers and did not like us in the store.”
The city contract, signed in October 2019, is for 40 bikes per year for five years, a total purchase of $314,000.
More from Carlisle, via Facebook:
“So now an owner of a business chose to lose one of his biggest contracts and listen to three hourly employees. The employees I always talked to at MJ’s were great and we never had a problem so I don’t know why MJ’s chose this path to go down.”
It’s a path our nation is going down on several fronts. And Madison, Wis.-based Trek, a dominant force in the bike biz, is navigating it with caution.
First, here’s what Trek says on its website about its $1,439 (without options) Service model bike: “Service is a bike built for those dedicated to serving the public, supporting our communities, and preserving our natural resources.”
Next, here’s what Trek said in a recent statement:
“Recently we have seen photos and video of Trek bikes that have been used by police in ways that are abhorrent and vastly different from their intended use. For over 25 years, we have seen police on bikes, out of cruisers and offices, building relationships in the neighborhoods they serve.
“The past two weeks have turned the view of police on bikes from a community asset to a liability. A positive outcome of the recent protests is that we are starting to see real police reform being discussed at local and national levels. We believe bikes can play a positive role by continuing to get officers out of cars and armored trucks and into the community where trust can be built.”
Bike Co., the North American distributor for Fuji bikes, went further:
“In the last week we have seen our bicycles used in violent tactics that we did not intend or design them for. In an effort to work toward real change, Bike Co. … is suspending the sale of police bikes.”
In recent weeks there have been photos and videos of police using their bikes as what Bicycling magazine called “makeshift weapons against demonstrators.”
Last year, after a local protest, the Austin Police Association, in a posting called “Defending the First Amendment, said: “One technique recently adopted by the Austin Police Department to help manage crowds includes using officers on bicycles as a mobile fence. This helps officers to keep opposing protest groups separated.”
Bicycles? Controversial? Sure, why not. Everything else seems to be at this pivotal point in American history.
Can Mellow Johnny’s discriminate about to whom it peddles bikes? Yes, as long as its action is not based on gender, age, race, etc. And now the Austin Police Department is on the store’s no-sell list.
Carlisle ended his Facebook post with this: “If anyone knows of a bike store that would like to serve the police I would love to talk to them about our next APD contract.”
Any store that’s interested better proceed with wide-open eyes about how selling bikes has become a political statement.
And I somehow have a feeling that Mellow Johnny’s decision is going to divide local cyclists. Some will rush to buy something there in support. Others will never buy anything there again.
“We will live with the choices our customers make if they want to buy bikes and bike products somewhere else,” the store said in its statement.