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Statement about the July 2008 incident in Seattle.
Since its inception in 1992 police in cities all over the world have cracked down on Critical Mass. Sometimes these crackdowns have been outrageous, with police assaulting and injuring peaceful cyclists, and arresting and ticketing cyclists who were breaking no laws.
It's true that CM riders often do break the law, and we're not complaining about appropriate police response when that happens. We're complaining about the unreasonable police response:
Documenting all the cases in which the police responded inappropriately to Critical Mass would be a big task, so here are just a few examples.
While we're at it, we should point out that not only do most rides occur without incident, but in some cases the police are especially helpful. A rider in the New Haven, CT mass told us in Sept. 2008:
"We actually have a full escort of bike police, who cork intersections, ride and joke with us, and are basically just other people on the ride. They don't decide route, they don't even attempt to influence it: regardless of how sketchy a neighborhood or a road, they just cheerfully block traffic and get us through intersections. They've been a real boon and super friendly."
Kudos to the New Haven Police, and may they serve
as an example to police departments everywhere that there's
no reason to see a simple bicycle ride as a terrorist threat
that must be clamped down on.
Minneapolis, MN, USA
From the Minneapolis Critical Mass website:
Montreal, QC, Canada
August 2006. "...the police lunged for two more riders (who happened to be non-white) and threw them to the ground, knees in the back, arms wrenched behind them, simply for riding their bikes, and enquiring what had happened to the woman being roughly shoved head first into the police car." (More: Joshua Hart)
Winnipeg, MB, Canada
May 2006. Riders say police used excessive force in arresting five peacful Critical Mass riders. (More: Winnipeg Sun May 27, May 28; Uptown Magazine; Tear it Down)
Milwaukee, WI, USA
April 2006. Milwaukee requires bicyclists to obtain a license (!), and CM riders without licenses were arrested, even though they were on a bike path and not on city streets. A reader tells us:
Denver, CO, USA
April 2006. Police confiscated riders' bikes on the Denver Critical Mass ride. Until the police start impounding people's cars for minor traffic infractions, this is just completely inappropriate -- and an obviously childish exercise of power. (More: Westword)
Spokane, WA, USA
November, 2005. A rider writes: "Prior to a ride on November 25, Officers from the Spokane Police Department came to the Critical Mass meeting point and read Municipal Codes for Disorderly Conduct. The Officers left, and about eleven bicyclists began the ride, heading down Howard Street, with about fifteen people were following by foot on the sidewalks--some with cameras, and some as general supporters. Less than ten minutes into the ride the police created a blockade near the corner of Riverside and Post, announced their presence, and tackled people from their bikes. They handcuffed eleven people and detained them in a nearby alleyway. They confiscated bicycles as 'evidence'. Three people were released, and the remaining eight were arrested on charges of Disorderly Conduct."
Reno, NV, USA
March 4, 2005. Police handcuffed riders and threatened them with jail for minor traffic infractions. We don't begrudge officers for doing their job when they see the law broken, but the appropriate response to a minor traffic infraction is a ticket, not handcuffs and jail. Motorists certainly don't get dragged out of their vehicles and handcuffed when they break traffic laws. One of the arrestees tells his story here.
January 2005. Riders say police tackled CM riders were who weren't resisting arrest, while arresting them for no apparent reason. (more...) And
Bellingham, WA, USA
October 2004. Bellingham police reportedly arrested six people on the annual Halloween ride. Unfortunately the only source we have for this is one rider's account, which is probably leaving out a lot of salient details, posted on an IndyMedia site. (Seattle IndyMedia)
April 2004. "...police aggressively tore people off their bikes in mid-flight and even arrested one participant (after he slammed into their car door)." (more)
Buffalo, NY, USA
June 2003. Police say Critical Mass riders rioted and assaulted police officers. The cyclists say the police did the rioting and assaulting, not them. These articles have expired and are not free to read: First article | Second article
Los Angeles, CA, USA
August 2000. "There were police, sheriff's officers, the highway patrol. They formed a complete 360-degree circle around us. As we were trying to drop our bicycles, police approached us with batons drawn and were screaming at us to face the fence. It was clear to us we were herded to a place under the freeway where people wouldn't see us being arrested. Someone asked what we were being arrested for, and he was told to "shut up--you'll know soon enough." When they ultimately wrote out our tickets, they had a lot of pow-wows about what they were going to charge us with. What they charged us with that night--felony reckless driving--was different than what we were arraigned on. In the end, I was charged with one misdemeanor--willfully and maliciously obstructing the flow of traffic, which was ironic as there was no traffic to obstruct because the police blocked the street for us and waved us through intersections.We were held outside, cuffed, for three hours. Then they put us on sheriff's prison buses..." "Attorneys for 71 bicycle riders arrested and eventually cleared of misdemeanor charges during the Democratic National Convention filed claims Wednesday against the city and county alleging false arrest.. (more)
San Francisco, CA, USA
July 1997. This police crackdown was so outrageous and violent it attracted international attention.
Austin, TX, USA
circa 1994-95. Your webmaster witnessed gross police overreaction on CM rides in Austin. At one point police ordered all cyclists off the road for no apparent reason, grabbed one cyclist who didn't respond as quickly as they preferred and dragged him away by his hair, confiscated bikes, and made random arrests when there were no apparent laws being broken. Asking why someone else was being arrested could get you arrested. Almost all the cyclists eventually had their cases dropped or won their cases in court, but even before this the police taunted us, "You may beat the rap, but you won't beat the trip," meaning that even if we escaped conviction they had still abused and harassed us and wasted a lot of our time. Incidentally, while the police made these mass arrests, their police cruisers were filling the streets, effectively blocking traffic better than Critical Mass could ever hope to. -- Michael Bluejay
New York, NY, USA
This is a big case and so we can only cover it in the most superficial way. Other outlets and organizations are covering it in more detail, and we link to them.
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