Saturday, August 27, 2005

Criminal Mass, August 2005...49 arrested.

It sounds like the same ol story only worse. A group of people decide to ride their bikes together on the last Friday of the month, like they do in over 300 cities around the world...blah blah blah, I'm starting to sound like a broken record. Well something is definitely broken...our democracy. I couldn't attend tonight's ride because I had to work and then go to a screening of a film I helped make called, "warriors, the bike ride." I was conflicted though, because I feel the monthly critical mass is important and needs to be attended. The city of New York has been waging war on bike riders since the huge critical mass ride last August when over 5,000 people were in attendance. This is when the NYPD felt a once peaceful ride of friends and family had gotten taken over by the ACLU and anarchists and specifically become a political protest with no other purpose then to disrupt traffic and New Yorkers Friday night commute. "It's right before the Republican National Convention (2004) so it must be about people who hate Bush, who hate the war, who love Saddam, who hate all forms of motor vehicle traffic." This is not an actual quote but it seems to be idea of the attitude of the NYPD and their misconception to what critical mass is all about.

Last night's ride sounded like a slaughter. Within 8-10 minutes of people leaving Union Square the cops swarmed in and made arrests. Meanwhile I was sitting in an automotive high school, outdoors in a side grassy lot watching movies about biking. Rooftop films and the National Lawyers guild were having a fundraiser for the legal defense fund to raise money for those arrested at critical mass. If you decide to fight the ridiculous charges placed upon your arrest at the mass, it will cost you money. Many people end up taking the ACD (adjournment contemplating dismissal) often, because they don't want to shell out the $500-$700 it will cost you...which is a modest fee charged by the lawyers who graciously take on these cases. Rooftop films has been screening independent shorts and features on a roof in Bushwick Brooklyn for nine years. They are dedicated to providing a place for film and video makers to show their works. The decided to host the bicycle film festival which has been in existence for 5 years. Brendt Barbur ,festival director, attended the critical mass when it was starting as an experiment in San Francisco some 12 years ago. Then he moved to New York City and with a short amount of time of learning to bike the dangerous streets, he was seriously injured by a van door. This motivated him to do more than ride in critical mass. He wanted to create a film/video festival for art that is solely based upon our two wheeled friends. This festival is now in San Francisco, London, LA, and Tokyo. Last night's screening was highlights from 5 years of festivals included the great documentary, Still We Ride The three video makers Chris Ryan Elizabeth Press and Andrew Lynn were able to contextualize the entire situation of critical mass in NYC in one 40 minute movies. I highly recommend getting a copy of this video and showing people that the cities war on bike riding is way more involved then just critical mass. I talked with Andrew and he said he was spending some time in England and would be there to attend the Bike Film Festival in London and had set up 7 other screenings throughout the British Isle.
After the films screened we got up in front of the crowd to answer any questions people had. Most of them were legal questions. Gideon Oliver, who has been working on our cases, explained the best he could about the current situation, and then he got a cell phone call. It was the New York Times wanting to confirm the arrest numbers tonight...49 seemed like the right it went into the public record. I strolled to the back towards the free wheels table and talked to someone who was on the ride. He explained that there were cops everywhere. Nobody had a chance. Here is the article from the NY Times

Monthly Mass Bicycle Ride Leads to 49 Arrests in Manhattan
By Jennifer Lee and Matthew Sweeney
Published: August 27, 2005
Forty-nine bicyclists were arrested last night in Manhattan at the monthly Critical Mass ride, the police department reported.
The rides are described by their organizers, the environmental advocacy group Time's Up!, as a demonstration to promote the use of transportation other than cars. The ride at Republican National Convention a year ago swelled to more than 5,000 riders, several hundred of whom were arrested. Since then, the rides have become a point of contention with the police.
Last night's arrests took place in at least four locations: Astor Place; Houston Street and Second Avenue; West 18th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues; and along West 34th Street. The captain who was overseeing arrests at Astor Place said the bicyclists were being charged with parading without a permit, disorderly conduct and obstructing traffic.
The Bloomberg administration says that the rides are large and not spontaneous, and thus require a permit. Lawyers for the city have requested an injunction against the rides. No ruling has been issued, but Time's Up! is in discussions with city lawyers.
The bicyclists, who have split into different starting points since the police confrontations began, began riding last night around 7:30. About 250 cyclists started in Union Square with 15 officers on scooters behind them. As that group moved through the city, officers from different directions converged on the group and bisected it, arresting bicyclists.
Time's Up! says that because the rides are demonstrations, they are subject to free-speech protections.
"People have a right to ride their bicycles on the street of New York," said Norman Siegel, a lawyer who represents the group. He is also a candidate for the city's public advocate.
"I'm calling on Mayor Bloomberg to intervene," Mr. Siegel said. "He has to tell the police department to chill."

Let's hope Norman Siegel can give them hell if he wins public advocate

So if that's true and there were 250 or so on the ride, the police's tactic of intimidating the ride and picking away at it with arrests each month is working to diminish our numbers.

Will it work and make the ride stop completely?

I'm not sure anymore. I know I feel weird in telling people to go. "sure its great fun, but you might spend the night in jail and lose your bike for a while." I hear myself speak and I think about how this is exactly what the cops want.

Now we have to think about an alternative and how we continue in this struggle. Meanwhile the police fight dirty in true NYPD fashion. They twist the law, the arrest you even if you stop at red lights, the lie about where to go, they arrest you even if you haven't left Union Square.

Do we now apply for a permit and stick to a designated route and hopefully tire out the cops with our monthly vigilance? Maybe its time we have to act like good little drones and ride in order. We all know what would happen if we applied for permits in this town, something the city claims is all it would take to make the police back off. First off the city would drag its feet until 5 minutes before each ride like they do when we apply for the sound permit at each speak out. Then no one would be able to agree on a designated route because the police would offer us like 2 blocks and when we complained they would say "the whole thing is off, these people are being to difficult."

We can also look forward to 4 more years of Bloomberg because it's August and I don't see one opposing politician even coming close to making a stink about anything. So Bloomey knows he just has to keep his mouth shut until Election Day.

The world carefree network is starting a letter writing campaign to the mayor to stop the harassment of cyclists.

One tactic is maybe to ease off the critical mass and try and let things die down. Maybe we should all gather in Union Square Park the last Friday of each month and just listen to speakers and make that a free speech zone. These are difficult things to swallow and I'm not sure how committed people are to not riding. The other thing to do is support biking even more. Let's have National cycling appreciation month, let's have another bike week, how about Bike Fall. Let's support Time's Up and all the FREE bike rides they put on every month. Let's have a thousand people attend the moonlight ride through central park. We know the police will just shift to that, but hey let's make them. The worst things we can do as a community is stop riding our bikes.

Here are some posts from NYC indymedia

The New York Times is reporting 49 arrests during last night's Critical Mass ride. I witnessed about twenty arrests at St. Marks and Third Ave. The Times also lists Houston St./ Second Ave., w. 18th St. and W. 34th St. as arrest locations.
Earlier, as the ride proceeded along Greenwich Ave. towards 7th Ave. the NYPD attempted to block the front of the ride with vans while undercover officers on bikes aggressively chased cyclists. There was no warning given by the NYPD and their actions caused panic among peaceful cyclists who were forced to ride into oncoming traffic and risk their lives in order to avoid the trap.

I fear that it will take the serious injury or death of an innocent cyclist before the likes of Bloomberg, Kelly or Smolka come to their senses and call off these reckless monthly escapades by the NYPD.

The actions of the City through the NYPD affect not only cyclists but potentially all forms of Free Speech in NYC, not to mention the waste of our valuable resources and public funds in executing these monthly crackdowns. Keep in mind that the NYPD are not enforcing traffic laws during the ride. They are arresting cyclists and charging them with parading without a permit. The City/ NYPD wishes to control all activities in the public square and streets. As soon as you step ontside your door they want to dictate who, what, where, when and how.

If you believe in Free Speech then please contact the mayor, mayoral candidates and your city council member. Let them know:

1. You want the NYPD to stop arresting the peaceful cyclists who continue to ride in CM.
2. You want all charges against arrestees awaiting trial dropped.
3. You want the City to drop its lawsuit against Times-Up!
4. You want the NYPD to facilitate the ride as they have for years before August 2004, as is done in Brooklyn and in cities all over the world.

Respect to all those who continue to ride and to all fellow arrestees.

Still Ridin'
Aug 27, 2005 03:31AM EDT
Robot Rider
Just got home after ten minutes spent on the ride, an hour in handcuffs, and three more spent in a cell in Alphabet City. Rider solidarity was strong, but there's little even numbers can do when facing down a shield and a gun. There was at least one cop for every arrestee, maybe more, where I was. I got nabbed at the St. Mark's/Astor Place corral, but folks I talked to after getting out said they were caught on Houston and Ave D, and 8th Ave around 18th Street. The cops ran up with no warning, very quietly with minimum fanfare, which I guess allowed them to pick off riders at the front and back of the pack for some time. Their tactics are evolving and so should ours. Even the cops who arrested us admitted that the entire procedure was a waste of everyone's time.

I was charged with parading without a permit. I guess the irony of a phalanx of police vehicles blocking off traffic for almost an hour on St. Mark's is lost on those who say CM riders fuck up motorized vehicle traffic. Look, we have to take away every political aspect of these rides other than the simple fact that our civil liberties are being shat upon. Get Quinnipiac to run a poll on support in NYC for bicyclists' rights, and then go after Bloomberg at every event and forum he shows his face at in an election year. Make the Dems talk about the issue at their debates. We have to get the issue in the public arena and make the politicians talk about it to garner widespread support among the people of the city. I got arrested today for riding my bike on a public street. If that doesn't scare you, I don't know what will. Props to Free Wheels and Gideon for helping out fresh arrestees, your help and hard work is greatly appreciated. Still we ride...


Anonymous drewo said...

Meanwhile an elderly lady crossing 14th Street yesterday was struck and killed by a turning truck -- and no charges were leveled against the driver.

But 49 cyclists were arrested for riding their bikes in the streets.

Another reason to keep on riding.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Michael Green said...

Sad. We must keep it in perspective as far as the adminstration goes. Obviously this is related but they don't see it that way. Bloomberg must be forced to see that critical mass is good for New York City, it increases ridership, it is non-polluting, it is safe and it is a fun event for the whole family. The attack on critical mass is a violation of our civil rights, a waste of tax dollars, completely excessive and may cost him the election. Otherwise he will just follow the party line spoon feed to him by commisioner Kelly, that bike riding in a good thing but those attending the critical mass are bad bike riders who are violent anarchists who want to make trouble. And we should throw in the number of people killed by cars each day in this city and how nothing is done about it!! I say we have commuter rides everyday with under 20 people that start linking peoples commutes. Lets start riding in packs so everyday becomes a mini critical mass. We should use an online bulletin board that has designated routes for morning and evening rush hour so people can feel safe to ride their bikes in the streets. Say 8:00am a ride leaves from the base of the Williamsburg bridge and goes uptown via 6th Ave. People can get on and off it where they need too. Its like a "Bike pool," instead of car pooling. This 1 year attack on cycling makes me so fucking angry. I want to channel that anger into positive action and put more bike riders on the streets. If they want to take our monthly celebration away, we'll make everyday a celebration! Who's streets?

6:22 PM  
Anonymous wildgirl said...

Excellent idea regarding the formation of bike
pools!!! Very empowering and positive!

7:17 PM  
Anonymous drewo said...

Bike pooling is a great idea. Emphasize particular starting/gathering point so cyclists can count on finding other cyclists. If organized bike pooling worked, it would raise the profile of commuter cycling in the city - in a positive way that would be difficult for the city brass to deny.

7:56 PM  
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Blogger powered by natural ass said...

Here's an idea from Portland that could solve the "parading" issue in NYC.

A "zone-style" Critical Mass: No more worries about keeping the group together, corking, losing the tail end, mob mentality, or mass confusion. Let the next Critical Mass be an experiment in free-form celebration and political expression: an enactment of rush hour in its ideal form.

How it could work:
From the beginning, maybe even starting at different times, riders break up into small groups (from solo individuals to five people or more) and ride around in a small, loosely defined zone, increasing bicycle density on those streets twentyfold.

Follow traffic laws (for safety) or ride as you otherwise would on your own, but *ride as an individual* - fast or slow, turn where you want, leave the zone and return to it, ride in circles or ride all over. We'll wave and shout and ring and honk every time we see another cyclist--in other words, every few seconds!

After massing up one zone, we can move on to a second zone. Etc.

This is not a parade and there's no way a permit could be demanded - it's just bike density!

Added to the above bike-pool idea, this could change things!

11:10 AM  
Anonymous kel said...

im just wondering why a fundraiser and legal briefing was scheduled during the time of the ride. the turnout was really low and i just wonder why organizers would want to reduce the numbers even more by scheduling events at the same time??
we have all month to watch movies and throw fundraisers.

11:12 PM  
Blogger mrRed said...

I <3 riding in NY, and I wish that critical mass could continue in the same way it used to. The problem i find is that the energy used against the NYPD drones right now is energy that should be used against the administration. Having a sign that says "No Love for the NYPD" is asinine. You need to focus attacks on strategic targets rather then on groups. The NYPD pawns aren't the problem, the problem comes from downtown. The bike pool idea is awesome though, and as a communter, I'd love to have a group of people to ride with uptown in the morning. A good chance to have coffee with some others while cruising to work. If anyone wants to meet near houston and C in the morning and go uptown (I need to make it to queensborough), i'm game.

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