Report after 03/25/05 Critical Mass NYC
Here is my experience at the recent critical mass.
I rode around Union Square about 6:55pm to scope out what the NYPD had up its sleeves for tonight's ride. Things had been amped up because of another lawsuit filed by the city against the critical mass. Previously a Federal Judge, who said the bike ride DOES NOT NEED A PERMIT in order to proceed, nullified that lawsuit. There are also no laws proclaiming that it is illegal to ride a bike more than 2 a breast. Once again we heard a statement coming out of a police sound system planted in Union Square North, loud enough and repetitive so that all gathered there could be properly warned about what was a blatant lie made up by the police. "Riding your bicycle in a procession without a permit is dangerous and illegal" came the recorded voice. "Anyone involved in this unlawful activity will be arrested." So this is what the police say despite the fact that a federal judge ruled differently. This brings us to the current lawsuit filed on Friday, the day of the most recent critical mass. Since the police cannot make the bike ride illegal, they are going on the grounds of the gathering on parklands, where there is a pre-existing ordinance that claims any group of 20 or more must have a permit to assemble. Again this is a big grey area, which must be worked out in a legal arena. How can a leaderless activity of showing up to ride your bike with other people apply for a permit? Who would apply for a permit? Critical Mass is not a group it is an activity, a coordinated occurrence. Are 20 people assembled in Union square as a group? What about every day when people are hanging out in the park, or are skateboarding? Do they need a permit? What constitutes a group?
So as we all know the NYPD lies and donâ€™t have to answer to anyone. A Federal judge says one thing, cops do another. Meanwhile the cops were out in full force, staging various pieces of equipment around Union Square such as a mobile RV command unit, flatbed truck with barricades and a converted school bus. One thing I noticed was they had orange mesh nets about 4 feet high in bundles on the corner of Union Square East and Park Ave South and on Broadway. These were used during the RNC when hundreds of bike riders were arrested on critical mass. The tactic of this is to stretch the makeshift barricade across the road and trap anyone in it. Who is blocking traffic now? So it looked like it was going to be a night for the police to use the netting tactic. In the last 2 or 3 rides that had just been attacking the ride with a phalanx of mopeds, often ramming into bike riders in order to get them to stop and then blocking off the ride in the middle with mopeds. I saw the moped division hanging out on there usual spot on Union Square East. This is the same moped division that used to facilitate and monitor the ride without being used as a battering ram for over 6 years of uneventful rides. Not anymore.
Reverend Billy and a marching band were playing in Union Square and then the band left the park heading north and stopped in front of the Petco pet supply store, on the sidewalk, on Union Square North. There were rumor that other rides were leaving from Tompkins Square and Washington Square parks, but I do not know what happened with them. Bikers filled out of the park, watched the moped division drive up the wrong way on Broadway and assemble in a straight line, waiting for the bikers to move. About 50 people headed off on their bikes down 17th street towards 5th Ave, thus starting the critical mass. I rode up ahead as quickly as I could to see what lie waiting for us, I did not want to be in the back and get rammed with a moped. As we reached 5th Ave. I saw the police trying to hurriedly put up an orange banner blocking all of 5th ave. So turning Left was not an option. Then we crossed 5th, stopping at the red light, and headed for 6th Ave. 17th was blocked with the orange net as well as a net inside a outdoor parking lot in the middle of the block which might have been an escape for the riders. So in essence we were trapped like fish in a barrel. Many people at the 6th Ave side of the street stayed with their bikes and asked the cops why they were being held. I also noticed that pedestrians unaffiliated with the ride were not being let out either. I did not know what was on the 5th Ave side, but could only assume it was another bright splotch of florescent orange.
I locked up my bicycle to scaffolding on 17th street and put my helmet on the bike. Other people were deciding what to do as more police began to mobilize on the block. One scooter cop rode past me on the sidewalk and hesitated by me as I was in the process of locking up my bicycle. Maybe he would have arrested me right there or not. Its good to see the mopeds riding on the sidewalk in such a safe manner, especially when critical mass is supposedly dangerous and illegal. Ok, so now we waited. It was clear that the people at the fence were going to be arrested. The plastic handcuffs were coming out and some people were already being fitted. Other police officers were walking up and down the block, looking for anyone holding onto a bike. Those people were escorted over to the area of other arrestees and were put through the process. One friendly doorman allowed at least 2 people to hang out in the lobby with their bikes. The police eventually went into the building and escorted those people out to be arrested. So now I had a choice. Stay with my bicycle or exit the orange fence and try to get the bike later. I opted to stay with the bike as long as I would be allowed. Anyone in the area with a video camera or taking photographs was not hassled by the police, which was an unusual change form normal when they would be asked to leave unless having proper credentials. I also saw several legal observers in identifying neon green hats being allowed to talk to people being arrested. One police sergeant asked on his walkie to get the task force in here with the saw and lock cutters. Soon 2 fire trucks, a converted NYPD police bus to take away arrestees and some emergency vehicle trucks had begun to filter into the closed block. About 40 people were being processed on the street, photographed with their bikes and being loaded onto the bus. Meanwhile 2 police officers came down the block with the saws and stopped at my bike. I said to officer McCarthy, who seemed to be calling the shots as far as bike removal. "Are you going to steal bikes?" He replied by saying, "Tell all your friends that you can have a choice. You can step forward and claim you bike and be given a summons. You will then be able to leave with your bike. Or, we will take the bikes." I said, "But that would be theft." He said, "I guess that is what we'll do than." One guy who had his bike locked up next to mine, took the summons. I just sat and watched as they used a giant saw with sparks flying to cut one link of the chain. No, you couldn't cut the lock; you had to cut the $70.00 chain. Then my bike was tagged with a number and loaded onto a flat bed truck stacked high with all the bikes. There was one guy from Philadelphia who turned the corner and saw that his bike was taken, he was not on the ride. He was given his bike back. Why were the cops sympathetic to certain people while others were taken?
After the RNC critical mass in August, the police did a similar thing. They blocked off a side street (EAST/WEST) and people locked up their bikes. The police came and cut locks. People sued the police for taking property without linking it to an arrest. The police answered this by suing to make critical mass illegal, which was what we talked about at the beginning. That same federal judge ruled, the police CAN NOT TAKE BIKES without being associated to an arrest. So once again the police violated a federal order and took property. This has been one of the only things we have been able to win on in the legal arena.
So here we are again. Critical mass is being attacked more harshly with every ride without legal grounds for arrest. The police do not want to work with the citizens of New York. I for one am not against the NYPD, I just want to participate in an event that promotes bike riding that has been happening in New York for 6 years without a problem and in over 400 cities across the planet.
Oh yeah and I want my stolen property back.
If you too had a bike taken and not arrested on 17th St, contact me: