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Video of D.C. cyclist-motorist confrontation sparks debate over safety, race, and manners

Gordon Chaffin knocks on the trunk of a car parked in a bike lane and yelled at the driver. The heated argument that followed was caught on tape.

WASHINGTON — A video of a confrontation between a cyclist and a couple of people parked and blocking both a bike lane and a wheelchair curb cut is blowing up online.

It's sparked a conversation both about how dangerous D.C. streets can be for cyclists and pedestrians -- and about race.

"Hello please move!" Gordon Chaffin said in the video as he rolled his bicycle up behind a blue Nissan that was parked in the middle of the bike lane on M Street Northeast near the NOMA Metro Station Thursday night.

Chaffin, 32, a newspaper editor, said he can't afford a car, so he was riding home.

"You're in the bike lane and blocking the sidewalk here," he said after knocking twice on the trunk of the car.

He said normally he'd brush off this kind of thing, but he was really mad the car with Virginia plates was also blocking the curb cut for wheelchair access to the sidewalk.

"Hey! "Why you touching my car, bro?!!!" the driver said, after coming out. "Because you're in my space, public space," Chaffin responds. "Don't touch my car!" the man yells.

The confrontation just got more intense. "You just rode up on us," a woman screams, coming out of the passenger side.

At one point the driver reached for something in his car and tucked it into a hoodie.

"Why you doing this brah?" the man said. "People think just because they're white, they can touch people's sh---!" the woman yells. "Because you're making it unsafe, people could be in a wheelchair here!" Chaffin shouts back.

Eventually, the driver threw a couple of things at Chaffin and drove off.

"I was really scared," Chaffin told WUSA9 Friday. "I'm a stubborn jerk, and I try and use it in ways that help the world...I'm not scared of dying. I want the streets to get safer," he said.

The Virginia tags come up in D.C. DMV records with almost $9,700 in unpaid fines, two dozen of them for speeding on the same stretch of Southern Avenue Southeast where a pedestrian was killed last year.

"Again and again speeding on that same block. It's disgusting," Chaffin said.

On social media, Chaffin, who is White, has been both cheered and jeered. 

"These folks were obviously in the wrong place, but you rolled up and started banging on their car, which is a SUPER violation. Luckily for you, whiteness protected you, so it didn't end how it could have," one person wrote on Twitter.

"I know many Black people who've been killed in car crashes. I know many disabled people. And I try to live my life in a way that helps Black people," Chaffin said.

Dan Carroll, who describes himself as a "White guy from Arlington," said, "Pulling around the curb land and saying, 'Hey, you're not supposed to park in the bike lane,' would have been the more human thing to do."

A D.C. police spokeswoman said "Our office is aware of the incident, however, we are unable to locate an incident report at this time. MPD encourages anyone with information regarding this incident to contact us at 202-727-9099 or text at 50411. If you witness a traffic or parking violation, please contact 311 to notify the appropriate authorities."

Chaffin said he's seen too many officers ignore traffic violations, and felt he had to do something.

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