In 2017, the Providence town council wrote an ordinance that allows Providence police to confiscate and destroy illegally ridden ATVs and dirt bikes. This October, the City of Providence, in a show of enforcement, publicly demolished 33 dirt bikes and ATVs. One week later, during a ride-out on October 18, 24-year-old Jhamal Gonsalves was involved in a vehicular incident with the Providence Police that put him in a coma where he remains today.
Before the #justiceforjhamal campaign forced it to take a back seat, the BikeLife Lives Matter movement was working toward gaining greater acceptance for the bike life subculture in Providence, counter to what many in the culture consider its unfair villainization.
Those within the bike community view it as a colorblind society that doesn’t ignore the issue of race, but understands it for what it is, and this understanding can provide society at large with lessons on racial diversity and unity. It’s similar to the hip-hop culture in that it intends to bring people of different backgrounds together through self expression and the riding art form.
The bike community is simply a group of hobbyists pursuing their passion — a creative escape born from inner cities where people are directly affected by systemic injustices brought into sharp focus by the COVID-19 pandemic. But COVID restrictions and the resultant lack of human interaction aren’t the only reason riders seek the streets for escape. As a result of the pandemic, they are also dealing with an uptick in suicides and homicides. Many feel that the safest place to be isn’t their homes, but their bikes.
BikeLife Lives Matter seeks to curb the problem on our city streets by including the riders in reaching a solution rather than excluding them. By involving our youth in programs that foster diversity, family and education right where they are. By changing the narrative, giving voice to the voiceless and removing the stigmas that plague the culture. The movement seeks to amplify hashtags like #BikesupGunsdown, a slogan used to curb inner city violence, or #RideoutRacism.
The small town of Shamokin, Penn., serves as an example of what can happen when bikers and the city work together toward a mutually beneficial solution. The former coal town of 6,984 residents had experienced a dramatic decrease in foot traffic in its business district, but as a result of a new ordinance that allowed riders to drive in the city on certain streets during certain hours, the city’s economy was revitalized, and they have dirt bike riders and their tourism dollars to thank.
Like many subcultures, bike life will challenge the status quo, and have to endure the growing pains of an acceptance phase. But as the negative perception of this art forms gradually abates, it is cementing itself as an important social justice movement.
Jeremy Costa is the spokesperson for BikeLife Lives Matter. To learn more about the organization, go to bikelifelivesmatter.org