critical mass

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Not Guilty!

It's amazing how often over the years I've had to spend time in court rooms for simply participating in legal, constitutionally protected protest. In almost all cases, things get thrown out of court before trial. I've been told a number of times by different lawyers "the process is the punnishment."

The rights that exist on paper can prevent one from being brought to trial or convicted, they don't prevent you from being arrested. It's State sponsored harassment. Everyone involved knows what the outcome will be, but the goal of the State is not to go to trial, the goal is to make exercising your rights painful and complicated. I have to wonder at what point this reality makes those rights non-existent.

When it comes to the NYC Critical Mass bike rides, I've had a good string of luck. While more rides than I can count have been harassed by the police with many riders being ticketed or arrested, until two months ago I always manged to avoid the police at those moments.

There I was, riding in the bike lane, with scooter cops on my side and behind me. The light is turning yellow, I look back and realize that if I were to slow down and stop for the light there was no way that I would not have been hit by at least one of the fast-moving scooters. Out of concern for my safety, and knowing that if a cop hit me on his scooter and got hurt, that I would be arrested for causing his injury, I moved through the light as it turned red with the 4 cops around me. Immediately I was pushed off to the side and told to get off my bike.

I was glad when I was only written a ticket for running a red light and not taken downtown.

Today was my day in Traffic Court. I was all prepared with graphics detailing the position of my bike, the other riders, the cops at different points as the light changed. I was determined to win.

The judge seemed completely bored. Maybe she was going on vacation at the end of the day or something, I'm not sure.

The officer and I were standing before the Judge and I opened up my folder of printouts. He looked at me and gave me a smirk and waved his hand in a way that said "put all that away, it won't be necessary." When the judge asked him to present his case, he simply said "I'm sorry, but I'm not prepared for this case"

The judge then looked at me, reminded me that bicycles are required to follow the same rules as cars, and then dismissed the case as the State had not shown that any violation had happened.

It was nice to win and for it to be so easy, but somehow a letdown because I did not get to make my argument.

As we walked away from the bench, the cop said softly "just don't do it again,"
I replied "I didn't do it the first time, if I had stopped you would have hit me...." as I was talking he gave me a look that felt a bit threatening, so I stopped and said "thank you" and headed home.

The process is the punnishment.

"I didn't do it the first time..."

Gift horse! Mouth!! Looking!!

totally, but

rights aren't rights unless you look the gift horse in the mouth. err, I mean to say that it is very difficult to thank a cop for having violated my rights even if he did make it easier for me to be found not guilty of something I did not do.

frustrating Times

Today, the New York Times covered the issue of the Critical Mass bike rides again. Police and a Cyclists’ Group, and Four Years of Clashes

The article is well written and in general gets things right, but there are a few things in the article that leave me very frustrated and needing to reply.

I guess that normally I would not get so worked up -- I can't count how many times have I been frustrated with the NY Times' coverage of protests that I've participated in -- but being that I was quoted in the article, this time it's personal.

The quote from me is accurate and I feel pretty good about being publicly quoted saying what I did, it's the general tone of the article and lack of response to and fact checking of the quotes from the police that leaves me angry.

Here are the paragraphs that I find troubling and my comments on them

Last week, Mr. Kelly said that "it was not appropriate" for large numbers of riders to go against traffic — which Critical Mass cyclists acknowledged sometimes happened when rides turned into follow-the-leader with no set route.
Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said the Critical Mass riders "used to tell us their routes." The relationship was "informal, but it worked," he said.

Here I think that the reporter got confused by something said during one of his interviews. The ride has never, from its inception, had a planned route. The method of chaotic group decision by the folks in the front on what direction to go has always been the way it goes. And sometimes the front does not get to decide, frequently the bulk of the ride will continue in one direction despite the lead pack's direction. There was never a time when the ride would tell the route to the police, there however was a time when the police in NYC, like the police in other cities around the world, would treat the ride as something to be cooperated with instead of something to attack and shut down.

The only time I've ever seen riders go against the direction of traffic is when trying to avoid police violence and illegal arrest.

As Mr. Browne points out, in the past it used to work. In the past, the police understood the ride as one of the joys of life in the Urban chaos of NYC. The idea is simple, the more visible bikes are in the city, the safer we are on our bikes. A mass bike ride one day a month saves lives on normal days as drivers become aware that they share the road with bikes.

Moving through red lights is a safety issue, at one time the cops understood. The benefits created by asking a few drivers to wait are many: This allows the ride to stay as one group, prevents drivers from getting stuck between segments of the ride (where they tend to get nervous and use their cars as weapons), and gets us out of the way as fast as possible. The cops once understood all of this, but somewhere along the line, they decided to criminalize the ride.

"Shortly before the convention, this anarchist group hijacked it,” he said of the ride, echoing an op-ed article that Mr. Kelly wrote for The Daily News in 2004. It said, “Where once the cyclists were courteous observers of the rules of the road, the newcomers transformed rides into disruptive, often dangerous events."

this is just silly. I guess the reporter had a responsibility to print the opinion of the police, but to give credibility to the idea that anarchists have somehow infiltrated the ride is laughable (anarchists are part of the activist scene in NYC and have always been a creative and playful element of the ride). The only things that have turned the rides dangerous are the reckless actions and violence from the police.

The concluding paragraph of the article is perhaps the worst:

"The problem with these guys is that they provoke you," the officer from the 13th Precinct said. "They’re no angels."

To end with this sort of quote from the police dismisses the validity of any of the activists quoted in the article or involved in the rides. It also expresses a serious lack of professionalism on behalf of the police.

I'm sorry officer, but you're supposed to be trained in how to handle people provoking you; you're supposed to know the difference between people upset you are stepping on their rights and criminals. Would you put your quote in the category of Courtesy, professionalism or respect? (note to non-NYC folks, CPR -- courtesy, professionalism and respect is the new motto of the NYPD, emblazoned on every cop car)

This quote makes it clear that the cop currently under investigation for attacking a rider is not an anomaly, not simply a young cop that did not know better but rather an expression of the lack of respect coming from those the run the police department.

Being an angel is not required by law; the NYPD respecting people's right to assemble peacefully is.

I'm not an angel either

Leaving aside the fact that as a practitioner of the faith of the flying spaghetti monster, I don't even *believe* in angels, that angel comment really grated me. It is why beat cops don't get to talk to the press: they say things that reflect how they actually think instead of how the NYPD wants to be perceived. They think that if someone provokes you you can just haul off and punch them.

And, yeah, as anarchist who started riding long before 2004, I can tell you that there were lots of people talking about direct democracy and debating politics on the ride long before the cops declared they were going to put an end to it. The cops tried to shut it down in the lead up to the RNC. They failed in that effort and pissed a lot of people off and they proceeded to antagonize the ride for four years. After four years of antagonism from the NYPD should anyone be surprised that the ride is pretty antagonistic?

Until the brass can sort out the rules of the road and their priorities with respect to enforcement thereof (I saw the aftermath of a jogger being crushed by two SUVs on Sunday. I don't see any dedicated police crackdown on drivers who have formed a cult of running red lights.) the ride will be antagonistic. As long as they're wasting dollars chasing a bunch of cyclists with helicopters, people are going to challenge their priorities.

NYPD Harassment of Critical Mass continues

Last night's Critical Mass bike ride could have gone without any problems. However, no matter how far we compromise, the NYPD insists on continuing to treat us as if we were dangerous terrorists. They continue to criminalize a legal gathering; they continue to try to harass us into giving up. Dear NYPD: Fuck You! We will not back down. Rights are rights only when you use them.

We all tried so hard last night to have a fun ride. We all tried so hard to give the cops no excuse to arrest, ticket, or otherwise interfere with our right to assemble and ride.

The ride stopped at every light. We blocked no traffic. We kept the ride to one or two lanes, making sure we could not be accused of blocking traffic or disorderly conduct of any kind.

Everything seemed to be going along fine. We had a crew of cops on fancy new scooters riding along side us the entire time. They seemed completely bored. Based on the money the NYPD must have spent on those new rides and the overtime for all those cops, you'd never know there's a financial crisis in this city.

The ride was moving uptown on 6th avenue. When we stopped at a red light at 41st street a couple dozen cops appeared out of no where, walked towards us and ordered a bunch of us to get off our bikes and give them our ID.

When I asked the cop why he wanted to see my ID, he informed me that he was going to write me a summons for riding without a helmet. "But I'm over 16 officer, the law does not require me to wear a helmet" I said. "Yes it does, give me your ID" was the reply.

So, I moved off to the sidewalk, put my bike down and gave the pig my ID. I was worried that he might notice that the battery for my back light had just died, which could have led to a genuine violation of the law. As he looked at my bike and started to write the ticket, I pointed out to him that I had a front light, a back light and a bell, making my bike fully compliant with the law. I was glad he did not think to ask if the lights were working.

As the crowd stood around, a couple dozen folks waiting for their illegal summonses, people were busy looking up the law and being very vocal that the law requiring helmets did not apply to adults. I was worried that the cops would realize that they were about to give me a summons that would be easy to get out of (since there was no law being violated) and they would think of something else to charge me with, maybe claim that I ran a red light or something harder to beat. I also was thinking that I wanted a summons for not wearing a helmet because such a summons could be used to prove a larger pattern of intentional harassment of a legal gathering.

Much to my surprise, after running a warrant check on me, the cop came back a few minutes later and gave me back my ID and told me that I was right. There was no law about helmets and I was free to go.

Their goal was to break up the ride, their goal was to harass us into going home. Their goal is to violate our rights. They won again, even if I did not get a ticket. We all went home because none of us wanted to push things and end up in jail for the weekend for going on a bike ride on a nice spring night.

Critical mass bike rides happen all over the globe without incident. Why does the NYPD insist on continuing to violate our rights and waste our money by continuing this pattern of harassment?

They might have forced us to end the ride early, but we'll be back next month. See you all 7pm May 29th, at Union Square.