new york times

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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.