Imagine you were reading an article about how a loved one of yours was killed by a drunk driver. They were minding their own business, conducting themselves legally. Yet most of the comments on the news article were full of vitriol talking about how "people like THEM" were inconsiderate, had attitude, and deserved to die. Instead of having any problem with someone getting behind the wheel of a vehicle drunk, or expressing any sympathy to the victim and their family, the comments rage online about the fact that the victim of this crime was "one of them".
This isn't a mere hypothetical. Read almost any article about the death of a cyclist who was acting in a legal manner. You'll see comments like that. Furthermore this is what happens with almost every article that describes anything, sometimes even the most tangential thing, having to do with cycling.
You will generally not find this kind of vitriol in the comments of articles about motorists/car drivers. Because people realize that the bad behavior of various motorists (a) doesn't give them license to injure/kill that motorist and (b) doesn't mean that all people who get behind the wheel are bad actors/assholes. But somehow when it comes to cycling as a mode of transport, people lose their heads and think (a) and (b) are just fine.
Today is when CA's new 3 ft. passing law comes into effect. I have seen many places on Facebook, heard on the radio, seen on Twitter or various newspaper sites all sorts of "jokes" about the violence people should do to "those people". Not reasonable comments like "I'm confused, can you clarify how this works?" or "Okay, this is inconvenient but I can see how someone's life is more important than arriving at my destination 2 minutes faster." Instead it is the most prejudiced vitriol.
Generalizing the behavior of individuals to an entire group that you can easily label is wrong. It allows you to dehumanize people. Instead of making individuals responsible for their own behavior, you're ready to demonize everyone who shares that one easy-to-point-at trait.
I'm pretty sure most of the people engaging in these violent "jokes" and peevish or road ragey complaints/threats would admit they don't think it's worth injuring or killing someone just to go a little faster if you talked to them outside of the haze of prejudice…when they'd maybe taken some deep breaths.
Comments like these on articles online, on Facebook, in conversation with others, create an environment that says just the act of riding a cycle makes someone worth less. That it's okay to declare open season on an entire group, not because of the actions of the individual you see in front of you, but because you had a bad experience with someone who just happened to take that mode of transit. I've already been targeted a couple times in my life by people who have a hate-on for anyone riding a bike. In all cases I was riding my bike legally and courteously. I do fear that one day I may die, not by accident, but because someone has a hate-on for cyclists. If you think that's exaggeration, give me 24 hrs and I can hunt up a number of newspaper reports of incidents and probably some YouTube video as well of people who have on purpose tried to run cyclists over simply because they were cyclists.
I beg you all to please examine your attitude and words towards cyclists. Flip it over and see if you'd act the same way towards all motorists based on your bad experiences with various individual motorists. Any of us who drives sees numerous scofflaw drivers per day. Do you argue that motorists shouldn't have laws promoting safety or shouldn't get any infrastructure until all motorists obey the law?
Photo from BikePGH's "Drive With Care" ad campaign reminding people that humans ride bicycles. http://bikepgh.org/care/