Bike messengers, traffic safety advocates, and others wishing to celebrate the life of Aurilla Lawrence took to the streets for a memorial ride on Sunday, three days after the 25-year-old courier was killed by a hit-and-run driver who remains at large. Close to 200 cyclists took part in the procession—which doubled as a demonstration against reckless motorists and the NYPD—culminating with an emotional wake at the site of her death on the corner of Broadway and Marcy Avenue in Williamsburg.
Fellow delivery cyclists remembered Lawrence as a beloved figure in the close-knit community, whose infectious smile and passion for bikes made an immediate impression when she arrived in New York City from Kentucky five years ago.
"She was the glue that held a lot of people together—just look at how many people came out for her," said Shardy Nieves, a Bronx-based delivery cyclist of nine years who helped organize the ride. "We wanted to show her family that Aurilla had family out here. Even though she came [to New York] by herself, this is bigger than any family you'll ever have."
The group amassed at Lenox Avenue in Harlem, eventually biking down Fifth Avenue toward Union Square, where Lawrence was once a fixture. Riders dismounted at the park—a popular hang-out spot for delivery workers between shifts—and raised their bikes in solidarity. They continued south soon after, traveling over the Williamsburg Bridge and ultimately arriving at Lawrence's ghost bike and makeshift memorial on Broadway.
Kelsey, a bike messenger and close friend of the victim who asked that we not use her last name, said the ride was not only intended as a memorial, but as a show of strength from the grieving cyclist community against careless drivers and a police force seen as overly deferential to motorists.
"We are people that live our lives on bikes. A lot of people don't really understand what's that like," she said. "We're vulnerable...and there's so little justice served, it's like the law forgets about us."
A police spokesperson said Monday that there were no updates on the search for Lawrence's killer, who was believed to be driving a gas tank truck when he ran over her and drove off shortly before midnight on Thursday.
After a record-low of ten cyclist fatalities in all of 2018, the first eight weeks of this year saw five cyclists killed while riding in New York City. None of the drivers involved in the deaths of those cyclists—Chaim Joseph, Susan Moses, Hector Ayala Jr., Hugo Garcia and Lawrence—have been arrested, according to a police spokesperson. The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office, which has jurisdiction over four of the fatalities, would not respond to a request for comment on the record.
In the past, police officers have often reacted to a cyclist's death by targeting other cyclists at the site of the crash, sometimes violently. Keeping with that tradition, witnesses say that the NYPD set up a ticket trap on Saturday at the corner of Broadway and Marcy Avenue, where at least one cyclist was issued a summons for not stopping at a red light. Those who attended the ride on Sunday said they didn't understand the purpose of the crackdown, but that they'd come to expect it nonetheless.
"I've been riding for years—every time there's a crash with a cyclist, they start the ticket traps," said Nieves. "It's unfortunate, but that's why we have to do stuff like this."
Emails sent to the Mayor's Office and the NYPD about the reasoning for routinely cracking down on cyclists after fatal crashes were not returned.
In the wake of Lawrence's death, safe streets advocates have also noted that the corridor surrounding the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn has long been a dangerous area for cyclists and pedestrians. While the city has already begun the process of installing a protected bike lane on Grand Street ahead of the L train closure, it remains unclear whether the safety measure will be completed now that the shutdown plans have changed.
Asked to comment on whether Mayor Bill de Blasio supported building out a network of bike lanes in the area, his press secretary, Eric Phillips, replied: "Haven't decided."
Beyond the seething frustration with the NYPD's treatment of cyclists, those who participated in Sunday's ride said they were spurred to act by an unbreakable, often unspoken bond among those who spend their days on a bike. It would have made Lawrence smile, friends said, to see the community riding en masse through the boroughs—a group of friends and strangers whose connection had only strengthened by the time they gathered at East River Bar later in the night to raise a glass for one of their own.
"I was told that a fellow bike rider had passed away, so we all came together in memory of her life to ride," Bernard, a Queens-based cyclist, told Gothamist. "We all have the same passion, the same love for one another. We ain't trying to hurt nobody, we're just trying to ride bikes."
Reporting by Scott Heins. A rally will be held in Lawrence's honor at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.