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Richmond mayor: Drop ‘bicycling while black’ charges against Najari Smith

The mayor of Richmond has written to Alameda County’s District Attorney asking her to drop charges against Najari Smith, a popular youth organizer and bicycle advocate who was arrested during an Oakland bicycle ride this month.

Smith was arrested while leading a group of young people on a bike ride down Telegraph Avenue during the City of Oakland’s First Friday monthly event Aug. 3, according to attorney Walter Riley, on suspicion of violating a noise ordinance and resisting arrest. The Oakland attorney is representing Smith, who was jailed for two days and released on $5,000 bail.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said via email:

 “It looks like a case of bicycling while black.”

The phrase “barbecuing while black” went viral when a woman called Oakland police on April 29 to report a group of black people barbecuing by Lake Merritt. Smith is black.

Riley said police issued two tickets to Smith:

“One ticket says resisting arrest, the other says violating the noise ordinance. … There are witnesses to the arrest who saw that he did not resist arrest, and they are prepared to testify.”

Riley said the officer who arrested Smith:

“… grabbed Naj’s handlebars and confiscated his bike. The police officer did not ask him to turn down his music. I believe the Police Review Commission should review this conduct and review any policies that would allow officers to engage in this type of conduct.”

An email to Oakland police was not answered and an officer at the patrol desk said he had no knowledge of the event.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt wrote to both District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in Smith’s defense.

Butt said in an Aug. 16 letter to O’Malley and Schaaf, which Butt posted on Facebook:

“It just seems excessive to haul someone off to jail for the weekend and impose a $5,000 bail for a sound-related infraction.”

Butt added:

“I am hoping the City of Oakland will review the policies and circumstances that led to this arrest and that all charges against Najari Smith will be dropped by the district attorney.”

Smith is a member of the Richmond Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council and the founder and executive director of Rich City Rides, a nonprofit organization that teaches youth bicycle mechanics and employment skills through its bike shop and takes them on group bike rides.

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