Article on Critical Mass
Volume 74, Number 43 | March 02 - 08, 2005
14 arrested, as Critical Mass crackdown continues
By Jefferson Siegel
A National Lawyers Guild volunteer legal observer is arrested at last
Friday's Critical Mass.
As they have every month for eight years, bike riders from around the
city and out of town gathered in the north plaza of Union Sq. Park
last Friday night for the Critical Mass group bicycle ride.
Dave Bonon, a member of the Danbury Independent Media Center, came
from Connecticut. On his backpack hung two license-plate style signs
reading "Bicycling A Quiet Statement Against Oil Wars" and "True
Automobile." Eric Ferguson from Croton-on-Hudson drew attention with
his replica of a Pennyfarthing bicycle with a huge front wheel and a
tiny rear wheel.
Police handed out fliers stating "No permit has been issued for a
bicycle procession. If you choose to ride in a procession this
evening, you will be arrested and your bicycle will be seized."
However, a court ruling last December by a federal judge denied the
city's request for an injunction barring the monthly rides from
occurring without a permit.
When the ride started just after 7:30 p.m., over 100 bicyclists
pedaled out of the northwest corner of the park, heading west on 17th
St. But the ride was promptly cut short one block later at Fifth Ave.
Six riders, including a legal observer for the National Lawyers Guild,
were arrested. They were escorted onto the sidewalk, where they were
handcuffed, photographed and loaded into a police van. Another police
truck removed their bicycles.
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel had walked over from Union Sq. in
time to witness the arrests. When asked about the legality of
detaining a legal observer, he said, "They can't arrest anyone. These
arrests are illegal."
An hour later another eight riders who had managed to continue on were
arrested at 26th St. and Broadway.
One of the first to be arrested was West Village resident Madeline
The next day she recounted her ordeal. "At the point where I left
Union Sq., it was a pretty thin stream of people. Police vans came,
turning onto 17th St. pretty quickly. It almost felt like we were
riding single file because these police vehicles were taking up the
road. I got to the corner of Fifth Ave., looked across the street,
saw, Oh, people are getting arrested and I turned onto Fifth Ave."
Nelson had been riding alone when a policeman ran in her direction and
placed her under arrest. Along with the other five arrested cyclists,
she was taken to the Ninth Precinct and held for three and a half
When all 14 arrested cyclists were released at 11:30 p.m., Gideon
Oliver, a National Lawyers Guild legal observer who has observed the
rides since last August's Republican Convention, was waiting for them.
The next day, commenting on the arrests, he said, "What concerned me
about last night was that the Police Department seems to be shifting
their tactics and seems to be chasing the rides rather than
facilitating them, which is obviously incredibly dangerous."
Paul J. Browne, the Police Department's deputy commissioner for public
information, responded: "We've attempted, but were rebuffed, when we
tried to escort them. Meet, have a route and escort it. Since then
we've just asked people to observe the traffic laws. If they do
they're not arrested; if they break them, they are."
The arrested cyclists were charged with parading without a license and
disorderly conduct and were issued desk appearance tickets. A court
date is scheduled for March 22.
Here is my two sense and I wasn't on this ride. The police are acting hostile and renegade. They are not concerned with safety in the least and this is made evident by their behavior. If they were they would not be ramming people with police scooters and throwing people to the ground. If you are so concerned with the violation of traffic laws then give summons. Stop people on their bikes and issue them a desk appearence ticket for the violation. This is not what it is about for the NYPD. They are hellbent on stopping critical mass. They want to chip away at people. A few arrests each month will show those damn cyclists whos running things. Funny how non of this was done for six years prior to the Republican National Convention. Hmmmmm. 5,000 bikers showed up and suddenly we have a problem. This is what seems to happen to every Critical Mass in America. It starts out small and then it gets popular. Then the police are forced to react. They begin with violent tactics and make arrests. Eventually they get tired of this cat and mouse game and go back to working with the citizens of New York City who gather once a month for a peaceful bike ride. Critical mass is not going away. Is the never ending war for oil going away? Is the lack of attention to fuel alternatives and other forms of human powered transportation going away? Is the time period when the planet runs out of fossil fuel getting any further away? Then answer is no. So therefore...Still we ride.