On a chilly Sunday morning in December 2005, six Right Of Way members cycled from lower Manhattan and northern Brooklyn to Far Rockaway, Queens.
We had been called by a woman whose son had been run over and killed three months earlier. Andre Anderson, age 14, was riding his BMX bike on Sept. 24, a Sunday, when a supersize 2003 Lincoln Navigator SUV plowed into him from behind on Shore Front Parkway. Andre suffered severe head trauma and died in a local hospital.
Despite hitting Andre while attempting to pass — a violation of NY State Vehicle & Traffic Law Section 1122, which enjoins drivers against aggressive passing — driver Jose Vincens, age 23, has not been charged.
From 1996 to 2003, Right Of Way created over 250 “street memorials” to cyclists and pedestrians killed by drivers in New York City. Each memorial is a life-size body outline of a human being, spray-painted onto the pavement through a cardboard stencil, along with the person’s name, date of death and the phrase KILLED BY AUTOMOBILE painted in two-inch high letters.
Andre’s mother Audrey saw one of our memorials on the Web at www.rightofway.org and asked us to make one for her son. So a week before Christmas, three of us piled the gear onto a bicycle trailer and rode out from lower Manhattan. We crossed the Manhattan Bridge around 9 a.m. and picked up the rest of the crew in Prospect Park. We cycled down the long spine of Brooklyn, on Ocean Ave., and made two memorials en route.
At the corner of Ocean Ave. and Kings Highway, we spray-painted a child-size body outline for Keontry Rosario, age 11, who was tying his shoes on the sidewalk on Sept. 29, 2005 when a turning tractor-trailer jumped the curb and crushed him. According to the Daily News, the driver “told cops his big rig often hops curbs on tight turns so he never thought he hit anyone.” The driver was not charged.
A few minutes later, we were at the intersection of Ocean Ave. & Ave. X, where on August 18 a driver speeding southbound ran a red light there, swerved around a car and plowed into grandmother and retired nurse, Julie Quinn, according to the New York Post. Her memorial is adult size.
Then it was back on the bikes, south to Sheepshead Bay, east on the Shore Parkway bike path, and south again over the Marine Park Bridge to Far Rockaway. As we pedaled east to our rendezvous with the Andersons, the sun broke through the clouds, sending the temperature over 40o for the first time that week.
Audrey and her 13-year-old twin daughters Shanique and Shaniqua greeted us at Shore Front Parkway near Beach 77 Street. They smiled when we asked if they wanted Andre’s memorial child-size or grown-up. “Andre was 5 foot 9,” his mom said. She told us more as we unpacked the stenciling materials. “He lived to ride that bike. He was always taking bikes apart, putting them back together and giving them to his friends. Andre once told me, ‘I can’t live without my bike, it’s my life.’” Just like us.
We wanted Andre’s memorial to be perfect. This was only the third time a family member had called us. Stenciling was primarily a political act, a way of calling attention to “car violence” and the culture of “driver entitlement.” But there was also a strong element of remembrance. As we wrote in our booklet, Killed By Automobile, “deaths by automobile at most flickered briefly across the city’s consciousness and then fluttered away, leaving in their wake only grieving families and friends.” The memorials, which remain visible for several months or more before fading away, were an effort to broaden the grieving and extend the circle of outrage.
In our anxiousness we smudged several letters of Andre’s name. Audrey was unperturbed. She seemed to think it a minor miracle that we had come this distance to share a moment with her and her daughters. That night, she wrote in an email: “Please accept our sincere thanks and appreciation from the bottom of our hearts for taking time from your busy schedules to create Andre’s memorial. It meant so much to us that you all cared. I never knew we live in such a cold-hearted society until we physically lost Andre. But your dedication to your commitment assured us that there are still people out there who sincerely cared.”
Our crew of six cycled further east while Audrey, Shaniqua and Shanique drove to the Wavecrest section of Far Rockaway. On Sept. 8, 17-year-old Tamika Regan was run over by a 4-door sedan at Seagirt Blvd near 17th St. Tamika had just left a farewell party to a high school friend who had joined the Army and was being shipped to Iraq. She dreamed of becoming a lawyer, according to the Post. She was killed 6 months after her father’s death from cancer. The driver left the scene and the police say there were no witnesses to the 9:10 p.m. crash. The Andersons stayed with us while we made Tamika’s memorial and left a flower.
We hugged goodbye and got on our bikes for the long ride back. The sky had turned cobalt blue and the low solstice sun cast long shadows as we fought a west headwind back to the Marine Park Bridge into Brooklyn. The day sparkled with renewal even as it was tinged with death. We had one more stencil to make, in central Brooklyn. Joseph Hoffman, a WW2 vet, grandfather, retired auto-body repairman, was crossing the corner of East 46th & Farragut a block from his home just before 10 a.m. on Nov. 3 when he was struck by a white van that sped away,”. We painted the memorial and rode home.