Opinion: Why justice for Sarah Pitts is important

Brooklyn assistant district attorney Sarah Pitts, 35 (inset photo), was struck and killed by a charter bus on Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg over Labor Day weekend.
Photo by Adam Berger/Inset courtesy of the District Attorney’s Office

Sarah Pitts was a 35-year-old prosecutor in the Brooklyn DA’s office, but she seems to have mostly worked in the Post-Conviction Justice Bureau, going to prisons to hear stories from the inmates of how they were wrongfully convicted. She was flying a Black Lives Matter sign on her bike when she was fatally struck by a bus on Sept. 7 in the Hasidic part of Williamsburg.

Brooklyn bicyclists know that the intersection that Sarah died at feels threatening, in a neighborhood where the car traffic feels unusually aggressive and anti-bicycle. On the night she was killed, friends say she was riding back to her home in Clinton Hill after a meeting of Riders for Rights, a politically active group of cyclists.

Sarah’s tragic death really hits home for me not only because we are the same age, but because she died in precisely the manner that I fear will bring me to an early grave. 

According to Julianne Cuba of Streetsblog, Sarah was at least the 12th cyclist killed in New York City this year. At least 11 of those deaths, including hers, could have been prevented by better bike infrastructure.

The most trouble I ever got in during my six years as a district leader was when I jokingly tweeted that my likeliest cause of death was something very similar to what happened to Sarah. She was killed by a tour bus — the poorly named Excellent Bus Service, not the “Hasidic schoolbus” I was imagining.

Do these questions of religion and buses matter? Normally buses cause fewer bike deaths than cars. After my tweet last year, I was accused of anti-Semitism from many sides (I have a Jewish mother and eight years of Jewish summer camp under my belt) and subsequently apologized. My choice of words was perhaps foolish, but every cyclist in North Brooklyn knows Sarah died in the most dangerous place for us. 

I have ridden my bike to every neighborhood in Brooklyn, and I can report that nowhere do the drivers act with such impunity as in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Compared to every other religious group in New York City, the ultra-Orthodox appear to receive more hands-off treatment from the NYPD — at least in my opinion.

I know of many people about my age who have died on their bikes in North Brooklyn while I have lived here: Aurilla Lawrence, Devra Freelander, Mathieu Lefevre, to name just three of many. No one was held responsible for killing them. Maybe a prosecutor with a Black Lives Matter sign will get different treatment, but I’m not holding my breath.

Nick Rizzo is a Democratic District Leader representing the 50th Assembly District and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter @NickRizzo.