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What's scarier than 6000 bicyclists?

Critical Mass arrests A27
by B. Okie

Around 6:30pm on Friday, August 27, thousands of
bicyclists were gathering
at Union Square in New York City for the monthly
Critical Mass ride. This
ride was of course extra special because the
Republican National
Convention was to begin at Madison Square Garden the
coming week of August
30 through September 2. The Critical Mass (CM)ride
was a kickoff for a
week of street protests, political gatherings and
discussions,networking,
art, and public theater events inspired by a common
disgust for the RNC
and a common hope for a better world.

The police were present at Union Square passing out
flyers with
bike-related laws, trying to intimidate CMers from
participating in what
has traditionally been a ride that follows its own
rules instead of the
government's.

The ride was amazing, to have 6000 cyclists riding as
a group through the
streets with people cheering on th sidewalks like a
parade. As a cyclist,
it feels good to actually feel safe and get respect on
the road instead of
always being forced to submit to automobile traffic.

We did not see any trouble with the police until the
ride approached Times
Square, a temporary autonomous zone occupied by CM on
every ride. We saw
an
increased number of cops, paddywagons, and police
vehicles, and barricades
along the sidewalks in the area in and around Times
Square. Who would
think the NYPD would go to such lengths to stop a bike
ride? The ride
passed through gaudy Times Square surrounded by
cheering pedestrians, the
bicyclists funneling in and out of stalled traffic.
But a few blocks
south, the police blocked off Seventh Avenue at 34th
street, ordering
cyclists to go back, against traffic, or be arrested.
Many at the front
chanted "let us through!, let us through!" The police
began arresting
people.

When the police ordered cyclists to move back, I moved
to the side.
Unable to move onto the sidewalk because of the
barricades, I was grabbed
by a police officer who put the plastic cuffs on my
wrists so tightly my
circulation was inhibited and my hands began to feel
numb. At least three
of the arrestees on Seventh Avenue were National
Lawyers Guild Legal
Observers, whose job it was to gather the names of
arrestees and monitor
the police.

Most of the ride either passed through the barricades
before they were
secured or turned back and continued west on 35th
street, if they had not
already broken off into smaller groups earlier on in
the ride. The police
again attempted to stop those dangerous bicyclists,
this time with orange
netting. More criminal bicyclists were arrested,
including a couple who
walked out of a restaurant with hot take-out food and
bicycles in hand, a
couple who had gone grocery shopping and held bags of
groceries on their
bikes, and a wall street businessman in suit who had
just stepped onto the
street to ride to work, most of the Critical Massers
escaped.

On 2nd Avenue in the Lower Eat Side, police continued
with mass arrests of
the terrorizing cyclists. Some were arrested at 17th
and the bulk of the
remaining arrestees at 10th street, the location of
St. Mark's Episcopal
Church, which served as a convergence,resting,cooking
and organizing
space. The ride was over and bicyclists were
socializing and looking for
places to park their bikes. Some cyclists reported
being ordered to
disperse in one direction only to be confronted by
fierce riot cops ready
for a brawl when they did. Officers in riot gear
corralled cyclists,
refused to let them disperse, threw them on the
ground, on vehicles, and
generally did a terrific job of making the streets
safe for automobile
traffic.

The Criminalization of Bicyclists
At least 260 cyclists were arrested that night in
Manhattan. Clearly, the
cops were looking for a reason to arrest any and all
that had a bicycle
who happened to be near the Critical Mass ride.
Although, the cops have
never given NYC Critical Mass trouble in the past, and
have even at times
provided supportive escorts, on Friday, August 27,
NYPD was inconsistent,
misleading, cruel, and unfair. At times on the ride
the cops told
cyclists to stop at lights, at other times they
stopped side traffic so
that the Critical Mass could pass. The incidents at
2nd Ave. and 10th
street, where cyclists were brutalized and mass
arrested even though the
ride was over,
clearly shows that NYPD was looking for a reason to
mass arrest cyclists.

On Saturday, August 28th, outside Madison Square
Garden, Police
Commissioner Ray Kelly said "They chose to drive 5,000
bicycles through
midtown Manhattan. Obviously the government had to
respond in some
fashion." What? What si so threatening to the
government about 5000 happy
people on bikes and crowds of people cheering them on
from the sidewalks?
When people drive
thousands of cars down Manhattan streets everyday
causing wrecks,
injuries, and air pollution, thats not a problem? Why
didn't the
"government respond in this manner to any of the
previous rides that drew
more than a thousand cyclists?

NYPD had prepared a warehouse/ processing station at
Pier 57 on the West
Side of Manhattan to detain and process up to 1000
protesters each day of
the planned week of NoRNC protests. the Critical Mass
ride was their
opportunity to put this warehouse to use and practice
processing dangerous
protesters for the upcoming days of action. A large
replica of a property
confiscation form behind the processing tables inside
pier 57 demonstrated
to arresting officers how to fill out a property
clerk's invoice for a
confiscated bicycle, further proving that NYPD planned
to mass arrest
Critical Massers long before the ride began.

In the days that followed Friday, August 27,
bicyclists were among the
most harassed and arrested of all the protesters.
Throughout the week of
protests, the NYPD targeted cyclists with at least 400
arrests. They've
confiscated even more bikes, in some cases cutting
locks and taking bikes
that were supposedly ridden by "protestors." On
Sunday, August 29th,
without prior notification and without providing legal
justification, the
NYPD instituted a "bike-frozen zone" between 34th St.
and 59th St., west
of 6th Avenue. confiscated bikes are being held in a
facility in
Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and many of them are not
scheduled to be released
until court dates, in some cases months from now.

It is not just a matter of bicyclists being targeted
as protesters. In a
country at war over oil, with a government
administration of oil
executives, in a city hosting that ruling
administration's political
convention, cyclists are targeted for political
reasons. Because bicycles
used widely as a transportation option present a
threat to the oil and car
industry in this country, they (and pedestrians,
skateboarders, etc.) have
historically been given unfair treatment and
infrastructure in city
planning. In NYC during the NoRNC convergence, the
targeting of
bicyclists for arrest shows that they are seen as a
real threat to the
powers that be. So let's not give up!

For many of the arrestees that night, being arrested
was a first. It was
my first time being arrested, and although I did not
enjoy the experience,
it was a learning experience, something that adds
another dimension to my
understanding of just how messed up this system is.
For the wall street
businessman and all the other privileged people
arrested that night, they
now have a taste of what it is like to be among those
people all too
frequently harassed by police and law enforcement for
the color of their
skin, the neighborhood they live in, or the way they
look.

Story of a Critical Mass Arrest
The other cyclists and I grabbed by the police on
Seventh Avenue were
never told we were under arrest and never read our
rights. When I asked
the officer that grabbed me if I was under arrest, he
kind of shrugged.
Later he sayed: "You know why wou're arrested right?
disorderly conduct."
While kept in a little pen on Seventh Avenue,
reporters swarmed around us
asking questions and shoving cameras in our faces.
"What's your message?"
"What were you doing?"

Gradually, buses showed up. The Arresting officers
forced the cyclists
and their bikes on the buses. As I was boarding the
bus, several
bystanders raised their fists in solidarity. It gave
me some hope. As
the bus I was on headed toward the notorious Pier 57,
it attempted to turn
right onto a narrow street lined with cars. The
warning from the police
officers on the bus was too late, the bus hit the
Cadillac Escalade parked
on the corner causing the vehicle to shake and the
alarm to go off. How
ironic that the bus full of Critical Mass arrestees
hits an SUV on the way
to the jail!

Once we arrived at the Pier 57 warehouse, an old bus
depot, we were taken
off the bus with our bikes by the arresting officers.
We waited in line
as each cyclist was photographed 3 times and then a
photo was taken of the
bike. We were searched and our belongings were put in
a bag. It felt
good to finally get the tight plastic cuffs cut off.
We were placed in
chain-link cages with razor-wire, each containing two
or three wooden
benches and a water dispenser. The floor of the
warehouse was covered in
an oily residue that caused skin rashes on prisoners,
respiratory
problems, and created filthy stains on everyones
clothes that sat or laid
down.

Orders form the top, frustration at the bottom
The police officers were visibly frustrated and
unhappy with the warehouse
process that they were forced to go through by the
NYPD police hierarchy.
As I watched the police officers fumble around with
the paperwork, bikes,
and prisoners, unsure of what to do next, I thought
about comments I've
heard people make about activist or anarchist groups
being unorganized and
laughed to myself at the confusion of the police.
When my name was called
to leave the first cage and go through the tables of
paperwork and
property confiscation, I heard my arresting officer
comment to another
that "there's no way this is going to continue like
this tomorrow." The
younger cops and oftentimes the officers of color were
frustrated and
disgruntled by bureaucratic process and the orders of
the commanding
officers, who walked around, barked orders, and
chuckled to each other.

It feels good to be free...or sort-of free
On Saturday, August 28th, I was released from jail on
a Desk Appearance
ticket, with the promise that I would be back to see a
judge in a couple
weeks. It was great to have jail support people
waiting outside with
legal aid info, food, and support. Even though I was
out of jail, it
still felt like a prison on the streets with cops on
every corner, police
cars, vans, and trucks constantly passing by, police
helicopters overhead,
and armed gangs of menacing cops on scooters and bikes
patrolling the
city.

way to be 03.Sep.2004 09:01

anon

NY Crit Massers: Job well done! The lawlessly disorderly storm troopers must have taken a page from their kin out here in Portland (little Beirut) Oregon. Keep up the two-wheeled courage!