Saturday, May 07, 2005

A comprehensive report on the April Critical Mass

The villager is a local Manhattan rag that has been very comprehensive on reporting on recent Critical Mass and bike legal defense issues.

Here is the latest:

Critical Mass tries new tactics, but not the police

By Lincoln Anderson
The Villager | 04-May-2005

The monthly Critical Mass started out differently than usual
last Friday night. There was a rally for cyclists' civil rights,
followed by a blessing of arrested cyclists. And instead of
one big departure from Union Sq., the riders left from four
different sites. But the city's response didn't change: Police
showed no signs of backing down from their hard-line stance,
making 34 arrests.

The night also saw what some called a "standoff" between East
Villagers and riot-gear-clad police officers at E. Sixth St.
and Avenue A, where police handcuffed and briefly arrested a
New York Times reporter.

Before the ride, a "Still We Speak" rally was held in Union Sq.
in response to the city's recent court action to try to bar four
members of the Time's Up! group from publicizing Critical Mass.

"We submit bike riding without a permit is not unlawful," said
civil rights attorney Norman Siegel at the rally.

Siegel said they plan to file a counterclaim in state court next
month against the city's lawsuit against the bicyclists. The
city is arguing that Critical Mass needs to get a permit to ride
and a permit to gather in the park. Siegel said they'll continue
to hold rallies before the monthly rides.

"We have to say, 'No way. We have a right to be here. We have
the right to speak,'" he said. "Critical Mass will not stop."

Councilmember Margarita Lopez, who represents Union Sq., the
riders' usual departure point, and other areas of Downtown that
the unscripted Critical Mass events often travel through,
announced she is introducing four pieces of legislation to close
administrative code loopholes police are using to arrest the

"We know that in this country selective use of the law is not
acceptable," Lopez said. "All of these pieces of legislation I'm
looking into have one thing in common -- it's protecting the
Constitution, the right to ride bikes, the right to stand in
here [Union Sq., a city park]. The right to private property --
you can't even lock your bike [without police cutting the
lock]." Lopez vowed not to allow "a single loophole" to remain.

In blessing the cyclists, Reverend Billy preached, "You're
pedaling your bodies out into a city that has forgotten the
First Amendment." He prayed to "the goddess that knows how to
fix bicycles" for their safety.

Police presence around Union Sq. was heavy. But the cyclists had
already planned to split up and also depart from three other
points -- Tompkins Sq., Washington Sq. and Madison Sq. Word got
out that police were waiting out of sight around Union Sq. and
planned to "arrest everyone with a bicycle" in the square. A
line of police mopeds were parked in front of Barnes and Noble
on 17th St. as a loudspeaker truck warned riders they would be
arrested for "riding in a procession without a permit."

The group of cyclists that left from Madison Sq. cruised east
then down through the East Village and across to the West
Village. Moods were high as police were nowhere in sight. There
was some opportunity to enjoy spinning through the city and
comment on the scenery, though not all of it inspired positive

Zack Winestine, a Greenwich Village community activist, could
be heard fuming about a "monstrosity" as the group passed the
new, mirrored-glass Gwathmey-Siegel tower on Astor Pl., angrily
muttering that a version of it was now being slated for the
Greenwich Village waterfront.

"This is where Edgar Allan Poe got his morphine and laudanum
fix -- the Northern Dispensary," announced Matt Levy, as they
whizzed along Waverly Pl. "It's my job to know this stuff. I'm
a tour guide," said Levy, sporting a kaiserlike moustache and
a Tyrolean hat.

Joel Pomerantz, a mural organizer from San Francisco, said he
delayed his flight to Europe for an extra day so he could ride
in the New York City Critical Mass. He's been riding in the San
Francisco Critical Mass since its start in 1992, he said. About
five years ago, police there gave up trying to rein in the ride
and realized it was easier to just let it happen, he said.

"They just have a few police ride along at the end -- to show
they have some control," he said.

The group spread out across avenues, forcing cars to slow down
for several blocks, then peeled off onto sidestreets. But as a
bus came up behind them, there were yells of "Bus! Left! Left!"
and they opened a way for mass transit to get through. The
rides block traffic to send a message that bikes have a right
to safety on the road, and to feel powerful, too. There was a
report of one cyclist being rammed by an angry motorist during
the event, but the biker was uninjured.

On Hudson St., the Madison Sq. group merged with the Washington
Sq. group to cheers -- the bikers communicate by cell phone
and text messaging to keep track of their own and the police's
whereabouts. Then they headed Uptown, all the way to Columbus
Circle, which they rounded twice, while shouting "Stop Shopping!
Start Biking!" as they flew past the Shops at Columbus Center in
the AOL Time Warner Building. "Stop Eating! Start Biking!" they
called out while speeding by restaurants.

But things began to be less fun in East Midtown after three
undercover officers on bikes tailing the ride radioed for police
mopeds to cut off and trap the Critical Mass at 46th St. and
Madison Ave. The pack was broken up and smaller groups of riders
headed back Downtown, with arrests being made as police picked
off riders at various locations.

Obert Wood, a banker who lives in the East Village, said when
they fled the police at 46th St., the officers yelled at them,
"What are you doing, girls?" Not very professional, he and a few
other riders with him who had managed to elude arrest, thought.

Earlier, Colin Moynihan, a Times reporter, was arrested after
he had been standing at E. Sixth St. and Avenue A interviewing
someone while covering the story. According to John Penley,
an East Village activist who witnessed the event, an officer
shoved Moynihan as police were clearing the corner and Moynihan
asked for the officers' badge number three times, after which
a group of officers threw him on top of a police car trunk and
handcuffed him.

Moynihan, who was released without any charges, declined

Penley claimed he had started things by yelling at police after
he saw them walking an arrested biker up Sixth St. Penley said
right before that he'd seen three vans full of police roar up
Avenue A and almost hit people, and he became indignant at the
idea of hundreds of police chasing around the cyclists. Soon a
crowd of East Villagers were shouting at the police, he said.

"Actually, it was me that started the whole thing going over
there," Penley said. "I started yelling at the cops about what
a waste it was of our tax dollars to have vanloads of cops and
helicopters following people around the neighborhood -- and that
people like the bikers in the neighborhood. It was just yuppies
and old ladies yelling about it. People clearly see it as a big
waste of time and money and don't support it." Apparently some
police might agree: "A white shirt [supervising officer] came
over and told me, "I'd rather not be doing this," -- Penley

Penley said three or four vanloads of police came in quickly and
cleared the corners, during which Moynihan was "shoved pretty

Meanwhile, Alina de Laforcade, an artist whose boyfriend runs
Holyland grocery store on St. Mark's Pl., said that in Paris --
as in San Francisco -- the city is taking a more cooperative
approach to a mass, human-powered event. Every Saturday in
Paris, she said, "20,000 people" rollerblade around the city,
up and down the Rue St. Germain and Champs Elysees, in a giant
pack and that police facilitate it.

"The police, like, stop traffic so this group can go and
rollerblade," she said, as she showed some of her psychedelic,
black-light murals to Noah Rider, a member of the St. Mark's
Pl. Art Commune. "So you have a car, you have to wait five or 10
minutes. But it's fun to see -- 20,000 rollerbladers. C'mon,
hello!," she said, as if to say this was obvious.

But New York isn't Paris, it's not even San Francisco, and
under the Bloomberg administration the police are still chasing
Critical Mass.

Speaking of Bloomberg, Bill DePaolo, a Time's Up! member, was
giving out stickers at the start of the ride: "I Bike and I
Vote," they said.


Blogger SNEAKEASY said...

I have gotten so sick of reading, and being told, that Critical Mass "is not an organization, it's an unorganized coincidence. It's a movement ... of bicycles, in the streets", and everyone is encouraged to show up, and just start riding, blah, blah, blah.

Can we stop with that BS for good now?

Time's Up is an activist organiztion, with a major focus on bicycling issues, openly promoting monthly Critical Mass rides.

CM is not leaderless, and unorganized it surely isn't, especially when organizations set up and publicize a CM event.

Time's Up does many good things on behalf of cycling issues, and is to be commended for that, but think for a moment.....

I mean, REALLY THINK....

I'm all for Freedom of Speech, and Assembly, when done in a peacable, non-threatening manner and, most importantly, legally.

And I think bad cops should be punished, as do most cops of my acquaintance.

However, isn't it possible that the reason the city is so focused on CM is that far too often those attending, and even sponsoring, such events, in the USA, and around the world, have agendas far different than the supposed "promoting sustainable environmental solutions" that ordinary "real cyclists" think they are attending these rides to promote?

If Time's Up, and other Bicycle Activism groups, did what was neccessary to ensure their sponsorship of CM kept Anarchists, and other disruptive elements uninterested in better bicycling, out of their events then maybe the rest of us would respect the movement, if not agreeing with its tactics.

CM supporters should use all that energy to make sure that their precious Critical Mass focuses on issues relevent to Bicycling, because as long as it does not entirely do so it does more harm than good to the cause of Bicycling, and the impression many car drivers, law enforcement, and government officials, have of cyclists in general.

The Cycling Dude
Costa Mesa, Ca.

Putting the ING in BICYCLING since January 2003!

Critical Mass coverage:

1:26 AM  
Blogger Michael Green said...

Dear cycling dude,

I appreciate your comments and would like a chance to respond. I understand your frustration about defining critical mass, especially in this world of non-democratic hierarchical top-down prepackaged events. I would still have to argue that critical mass is a leaderless event. Just because certain individuals show leadership and promote the ride is no reason to claim that they are in charge and take responsibility for an event that happens in over 300 cities around the world. I do not understand why this sickens you so much? This issue about definition is really coming to a head here in New York City. The police seriously want a definition of critical mass…they are looking for a head in which to chop off. They want to claim Time’s Up is responsible for Critical Mass and they want them to apply for a permit. A federal judge ruled this out because he could find no validity in the cops argument. “Who would ask for a permit?” No one takes responsibility for the ride. I realize Time’s Up is the most prevalent in promoting critical mass, but it is also advertised in Time out magazine, on various blogs, on email list servs…should all those people be held accountable? Should I be held accountable if I go to critical mass and ride at the front of the pack and suggest everyone goes left at the next intersection? The police would love that. The police are so desperate for a leader that they are trying to sue 4 people as the leaders of critical mass, because the cops saw their names a bunch of times in article about Time’s Up. I doubt they will succeed in State court, but this hasn’t stopped them from putting 4 people through legal and financial hell just because they are in search of a black and white-tidy little packaged definition.

Like I say, your frustration is understandable…but what really disturbs me is your ignorance on the crack down of critical mass in NYC. I may have some expertise in this field since I have attended just about every ride since 2000.

This is not just a few bad cops wilding on a Friday night. This is a systematic crack down on descent and on people’s rights of free assembly. This has been going on ever since the twin towers fell. When President George W. Bush and the right wing republicans got a green light to label anything they didn’t like as either terrorism or on the home-front anarchism. This ism words have come in very handy for the police. Our police chief even said, “the ride was peaceful and then it got taken over by anarchists.” Who are these people? I know people who claim to be anarchists, they weren’t being violent on the ride. I’ve been to critical mass in at least five other cities and NYC has always been the calmest and self regulated. Besides this is NYC, if people go around punching SUV windows like they do in Portland Oregon, your libel to get shot. All of this manifested at the Republican National Convention when the same scooter cops who had been friendly and helped facilitate the ride for six years suddenly turned their mopeds into the crowd and started making arrests…violent arrests. 5,000 people attended this event. Was critical mass targeted because it got too popular? Right before the convention a document surfaced called “operation overlord II” This was a manual for cops to use during the RNC to handle large scale demonstrations…in it’s pages is a section on critical mass. So this bike ride has become part of the police’s checklist of things that are to be stopped at demonstrations. Part of there propaganda used to scare the rank-n-file officers, make them not understand that this is a peaceful bike ride and not a group of hooded anarchists breaking windows and hating the W.T.O. These are commands that stem from the mayor and chief of police who think it is an appropriate response to the bike ride to turn it into a police state. Every Friday night since RNC in August 2004 it has been a terror to ride your bike. Never knowing if an undercover will leap off his bike and throw you to the ground or if you’ll be given a 200 fine for running a red light even if your no where near the ride. Not knowing that if you bike is locked up a cop may come an cut your lock and confiscate your property. This is the world we are living in. This is what should make you sick and tired.

I am so sick and tired of people scapegoating anarchists or ecoterrorists when the can’t just sit down and think about what it means to have a constitution and the fact that you don’t need a leader or a permit to ride your bicycle with a group of people on a Friday night.

Maybe this will help you think more about critical mass…I mean really think.

I pray the WTO, the IMF or the RNC never comes to Costa Mesa California, because all of your rights will be suspended and we can all blame it on anarchists.

Michael Green
Not the leader of critical mass

11:21 PM  
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