May - June 2006
Table of Contents
May - June 2006
Peter’s Most Excellent Critical Mass Adventure
Wanna Join Me in Court?
By Peter Engel
Ever since the 2004 Republican National Convention, the cycling community has been very aware of the growing antagonism between the monthly Critical Mass riders and the City of New York. That has included hundreds of arrests.
When New York State Judge Michael D. Stallman ruled in mid-February that the police couldn’t arrest anyone for meeting, participating in, or promoting Critical Mass, I thought “the coast was clear” and decided to join the February 24th CM ride. My attitude was simple – it’s been awhile and I wanted to see for myself what would happen.
On that freezing night, I met up with Bicycletter editor Alfredo Garcia. We saw the clear presence of the New York Police Department, hovering at all ends of Union Square. We also saw, among other media, Lou Young of WCBS-TV Channel 2 and his crew. They must have sensed a story was brewing.
We started out on Park Avenue South just after 7:30 pm and proceeded down Broadway, where Alfredo and I got separated. The group then made right turns on Canal Street and Sixth Avenue, through Greenwich Village. In Chelsea, the ride turned left, over to Eighth Avenue. The fun began there, when the NYPD started grabbing riders.
The CM turned right on West 24th, then up Sixth Avenue. The mood was feeling much more ominous. All the while, we were being paced by Ford Explorers, both unmarked and with NYPD insignia. There was a steady pace of green lights on Sixth Avenue. It was a little before 8:00 pm when I crossed 28th Street. One of the unmarked Explorers was to my left. I saw that the ride was turning right at 30th Street. I presumed I would do the same.
Before making the turn between 29th and 30th Street, I was tagged from behind by a man emerging from an unmarked Ford Explorer that I knew to be a police vehicle. He did not use enough force to eject me from the bike, but it did stop me.
The man did not identify himself as a police officer but yelled that I was “under arrest.” He then asked for identification, and I gave him my driver’s license. I was then ordered to the sidewalk, where another officer stood next to me. The “arresting” officer took my driver’s license into a van parked at the corner, just by the police station. In there, he conferred with other cops. There was confusion for a few minutes as World Carfree Network observers asked whether I was under arrest. I said I didn’t know.
Based on media coverage I had seen of earlier CM rides, I thought I had recognized the cop who tagged me as NYPD Assistant Chief Bruce Smolka, Commanding Officer of the Patrol Borough, Manhattan South. I asked one of the observers if the officer was indeed Smolka. He confirmed that it was.
Smolka disappeared after leaving the van. About 15 minutes later, a uniformed patrolman gave me a $200 summons for “Disobey Steady Red,” a violation of Section 1111, sub d1 of the N.Y.S. Motor Vehicle code. The ticket was issued by the patrolman, not Commander Smolka. It says the offense happened “N/B 6th Ave. & 30th St.” I was told that this was a moving violation and if convicted, it would detract points from my driver’s license. What a fun night this was turning into. Looking at this ticket, several things bother me:
And finally, was it really necessary to grab me from behind? I would have responded to a verbal command. I’m sure the legal observers of World Carfree Network in Times Square would have also. Did Smolka really need to walk up to them, coffee cup in one hand, and upend that young lady by grabbing her bike chain? I’m sure you saw the video from Channel 2. Everyone’s been passing that one over the Internet. Thanks, Lou Young.
I honestly have very mixed feelings about what occurs during the CM. In fact, I dislike the general lack of respect for traffic laws or motorists shown during the rides. Many CM participants would be told to leave any Five Borough Bicycle Club ride for their behavior.
If this “cat and mouse” game keeps up between cyclists and the NYPD, someone is going to get seriously hurt. There’s really no reason why that has to be. CM really needs to get organized and quit with the “we have no leaders” façade. Does it really matter whether that infrastructure comes from Times Up! or some other group? I think that this is the only way to get the City and the police to take a more reasonable stance and keep Critical Mass from descending into a sad, frustrating and dangerous waste of time.
As you probably guessed, I have pleaded Not Guilty. Putting political and civil rights issues aside, the light was green and I didn’t break the law. My court date is August 10, 4:30pm on Rector Street. Anyone is welcome to come on down while I wait. I’ll write again after my day in court.