Critical Mass Crackdown--This affects all of us

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Anonymous's picture

Here's an oped I just submitted to the NYT, based on a letter I sent to the Mayor and police commisioner after my experiences last night. If you missed it, they arrested 34 cyclists.

Stop the Critical Mass Crackdown

I last did a “Critical Mass” ride about 10 years ago. It was a large and peaceful event, and the police rode with us to keep the group flowing smoothly and minimize the event’s impact on motorists. It was great to ride in the safety of a large group of cyclists, since when we ride in the city we daily risk death or serious injury at the hands of motorists (my cycling route to work passes a memorial for Elizabeth Padilla, who only a few weeks ago was crushed to death on her bike by a truck). Since the Critical Mass ride last August, I had heard that arrests had been made, and that bikes had been confiscated. Reading press accounts and knowing from personal experience some riders had always been fairly radical, I assumed that to warrant such an extreme reaction from the NYPD, those arrested must have really gotten out of hand. But lately, I have heard troubling things regarding the prosecutions--such as the police getting caught doctoring evidence (as reported in the NYT)--and I wanted to see for myself what was really going on.

So, I joined the ride on Friday, and what I witnessed was appalling. At the pre-ride rally, the police were present in large numbers, but they made no attempt to dictate terms or conditions for the ride. Once the ride departed, the part of the group I could see followed every traffic law to the letter, and the police were no where to be seen. We slowly rode many blocks, and then, suddenly, someone ahead yelled “turn back, it’s a trap” and I saw police detaining cyclists a block away. I could not believe what I was seeing, again thinking that the group ahead had acted inappropriately. The group turned away, and then a few blocks later, I heard another rider yell “look out!” No more than fifty feet away, I saw police on scooters suddenly run into the middle of the intersection, and, without any warning, scream at and grab cyclists who had not been acting inappropriately in any way or even violating any traffic laws. In fact, the police only detained people as they moved forward when the light turned green. Only by running away from police officers--something I have never done in my life--did I avoid arrest. Since the police surprised the group, they could not possibly have observed the detained cyclists for more than several seconds, so the only criteria they could have used for detaining people is that they committed the apparent crime of riding on bike on a Friday evening. Riding away from the group, I talked to several other cyclists who were not even on the ride who happened upon those intersections and narrowly avoided arrest themselves.

Tonight, I lost a tremendous amount of respect for our Mayor and also lost a tremendous amount of faith in our police force. In this time of terror threats, this absurd policy is seriously damaging police/community relations, wasting enormous amounts of tax money and police resources, and permanently damaging the reputation of our city throughout the world, and not just with radical anarchists. What must tourists think when they see peaceful cyclists wrestled to the ground by large groups of helmeted police? What about those, like me, who are just regular citizens who love this city and ride bikes? One of the first people to get her baseless cycling arrest overturned worked for the Wall Street Journal. She was hardly some anti-globalization radical.

I am 41, and have never attended a protest in my life. My politics do not match those of the many of the groups involved in Critical Mass. I have long been a forceful advocate for Mayor Bloomberg, but I call on him now to renounce and put an end to these ludicrous, dangerous, wasteful tactics of harassing and attempting to intimidate ordi

Anonymous's picture
fendergal (not verified)

"Hi John, while I'm glad that you're angered by the cops' treatment of cyclists and doing something about it, I am a bit perplexed by your initial assumption that the cyclists had done something extreme, that they deserved to be arrested. Most of the people who ride CM are like you: ""regular citizens who love this city and ride bikes,"" as you put it.

My husband and I were on the Critical Mass that preceded the Republican National Convention last summer. Fortunately for us, we left mid-ride and saw none of the police-induced ugliness. What I did see were hundreds of cyclists all exercising their right to ride the streets. I saw nothing that night that would have led me to believe that the cops were going to descend on the ride and haul dozens of people off in paddy wagons (including at least two people I know).

I started doing the CM ride many years ago, when there were just a couple dozen of us, and there was little to no police presence. Unfortunately, this recently evolved ""crackdown"" atmosphere will probably not dissipate, given the willingness of the public to tolerate increased police action, even when it has nothing to do with actual security or safety."

Anonymous's picture
John Huntington (not verified)
Critical Mass Crackdown--This affects all of us

">>I am a bit perplexed by your initial assumption that the cyclists had done something extreme""

Thanks for the comment--part of that was I guess a device since I wrote this for many non cyclists who might have seen only the general media coverage. But also because I had seen on previous rides a few people who were really militant and might even want to confront the police. I thought it was probably those people who were triggering the arrests.

Then, a couple weeks ago I went to see the documentary ""Still we Ride"" and that is one of the reasons I went to do the ride to check things out.

I'll be back, although next time I might go follow the scooter cops with my video camera--more evidence to show how arbitrary the tactics are...


Anonymous's picture
Hank Schiffman (not verified)
This is an election year

"I like the Mayor but hold him responsible for this policy and the tactics.

We don't know how close a percipitating event, beyond our control could turn public opinion against all cyclists, let alone the injustice being doled out by the NYPD to peaceful CM riders. Using tax dollars to train police on crowd control this way is not my idea of dealing well with limited resources efficeintly. These riders are not terrorists.

The Mayor must feel this issue will not affect his reelection. I vote and, although I personally feel his performance as mayor is good, the CM policy buck does stop at his desk.

The concept that reasonable people are being harrassed and arrested greatly offends me. What was that quote about Thoreau being visited by another transendentalist? Was it Emerson? Anyway, he said to Thoreau, ""What are you doing in jail."" To which Thoreau replied, ""What are you doing out of jail?'"

Anonymous's picture
John Huntington (not verified)

Please do contact the mayor. I adapted this piece from a letter I mailed to him yesterday. I started that letter by mentioning that the last time I wrote him several years ago was to compliment him. I think he's doing a great job but he's really ill informed on this issue, even if Bratton or someone is feeding him misinformation...


Anonymous's picture
richard rosenthal (not verified)
Bratton long out (to L.A.); Ray Kelly in.

"Police Comm. Bill Bratton displeased Giuliani because some of the spotlight Rudy wanted for himself fell onto him, on account of which he was gone.

Bruce Smolka is the cop-in-charge of this ugly chapter of misbegotten arrests and tactics. His career in the PD is not without precedent.

Another fave: Paul Browne, assistant police commissioner for public information who said of Norman Siegel, lawyer for Crit. Mass riders, he lies and exaggerates. This, of course, is the same Paul Browne who said cyclists ""endanger"" drivers. Piss them off? Yeah, sure. But ""endanger""? I mean, have you ever heard of a driver being killed by a cyclist? Injured?"

Anonymous's picture
Regina (not verified)
courtesy, professionalism, respect

"those three words are what the city would like us to think of when we hear the acronym, NYPD. They want to create an image of safety and trust.

I feel a bit uncomfortable these days riding my commuter bike around, knowing that they look at me as a potential problem. Where I (we - commuters on bike) used to be invisible, am now very much in the spotlight and also have a new sterotype as a troublemaker.
I also rode in the CM ride during the RNC, and narrowly slipped arresrt. I had my video camera too.. we were trapped into those yellow nets and were attacked from all sides. The feeling of being attacked when you have done nothing wrong, and pretty much assaulted, by the very people that are supposed to protect you, is scary and difficult to process. I narrowly escaped and left the ride when scooters once again began to drive by us, dangerously close as if threatening to hit us.

I too saw, ""Still we Ride"" and was even more surprised by what happened - things I didn't even see on the ride.

It's coming close to a year now since this turmoil began, and it isn't getting any better. Instead of paying these cops for overtime to harrass us, couldn't they put it towards some kind of homeland security program?"

Anonymous's picture
Rider (not verified)
Op-ed piece

A good op-ed, and I thank you for writing it. (Although I'm sorry you had to.)

A suggestion, if I may: edit it a bit and send it as a letter to the editor, and not just to the Times but to the other NY newspapers as well. There is a much greater chance that it will be printed as a letter rather than an op-ed piece, and I think it is important that as many people read it as possible.

Anonymous's picture
John Huntington (not verified)

"""A suggestion, if I may: edit it a bit and send it as a letter to the editor,

That was my original intention, but I noticed that the submission asked for letters to only reference existing news stories, and since there weren't any, I wrote it this way. When I get caught up this week I'll send it to other outlets.

I'm also very pleased today to see the NYCC getting behind this issue as well:"

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