It’s been a good 48 hours since the crazy activities surrounding the April critical mass in New York City. I’ve gotten lots of folklore and eyewitness accounts from friends and those who participated. Some details I was there for, some I heard over various forms of communications and others are open for speculation. It is also ironic that Indy media New York’s website is down which is another great source for rants, news, stories and all of what goes into the mythology of our daily struggle to assemble and protest. A right wing group who did a similar action during RNC downed the site. This makes me more inclined to want to tell my story of the recent critical mass, to at least give a personal story.
This ride was a little different form the start. There was a speak-out arranged on the south side of Union Square with a permit. This was set up to have people explain to the public what has been going on and how bike riding has become criminalized. There were a few city council people talking about their disgust with the NYPD for wasting our taxpayer money on a peaceful and fun event. There were some veteran activists trying to connect the dots and show how this attack is not just on bike riding but all forms of protest in NYC and how difficult it has become, even if you get a permit. As these words were being said, the police came to the podium and moved it further away from the sidewalk and told people they had to get back, thus illustrating the situation with perfect timing. Meanwhile a large group of uniformed cops were meeting on the North side to be given their assignments. The police have been moving in closer to Union Square each ride, making it harder for us to start and stationing orange netting at the ready. The white shirted lieutenants were meeting beside their mobile command RV on 15th street and talking about the best way to trap the riders in orange nets.
To break up the “lambs for the slaughterness” of Union Square and to able to just ride and try and formulate a mass, a group of people meet 3 weeks back and came up with the idea to have three other meeting spots besides Union Square. These were Madison Park at 23rd and Broadway, Washington Square Park and Tompkins Square Park. The idea was to flyer for these four spots, give people a choice of where they wanted to meet and then use text messaging and try and coordinate linking up the various groups. I went to Washington Square Park and waited with about 20 people. There were 3-5 obvious under cover cops at each location who seemed on low alert (excluding Union square) I got the impression that Union Square was still the big prize and the other meeting spots would just be checked on by helicopter which constantly circled from over head.
Meanwhile I heard things got a little hectic in Union Square. No one wanted to break out because of prior quick arrest history. Assistant police chief Bruce H. Smolka Jr. who is in charge of Manhattan below 59th street and has a huge distain for demonstrators decided to get things going since they weren’t happening fast enough for him to start making his quota of arrests for the evening. He turned in his playbook to “insite a riot 101″Â and grabbed someone who was walking there bike on the sidewalk. Since the police have no regard for the law they do not wait for people to be in violation. I’m not sure how walking your bike on the sidewalk is the same issue as parading without a permit but that didn’t matter. In Smolka country the idea is to make pre-emptive arrests before people even think about protesting. Smolka grabbed a young woman in the park and placed her under arrest in front of all the news media and the New York Times. The got him a picture in the paper and an angry mob of people who began arguing with the top brass and demanding her release for not doing anything wrong. Wouldn’t you know it, like clockwork a group of riot helmeted officers moved in and stood in a line on the sidewalk of Union Square South. Finally after a brief scuffle a few brave souls tried to start the mass and went down the wrong way of University Place, heading downtown. About 200 riders escaped and found this to be the only route without orange nets.
About this time the other rides had left their perspective meeting spots. Washington Square had about 20, Tompkins had about 50 and Madison had 50. These separate rides took off and were in instant communication with each other using modern technology.
Tompkins went on there own way, but Madison and Washington hooked up at Hudson and Christopher St. in a rocking celebration of cheers and bike lifts. This formed into a critical mass of about 80-100 people and for an hour or so it felt like the good ol days before August 2004 when you could ride in the streets and not have to cops ramming you with mopeds. Here are some other reported incidents that happened on this ride (please tell me if there are details that are wrong or left out)
*An SUV ran over someone’s bicycle. Both drivers were stopped by the trailing police. The bike rider with the mangled useless bike was given a ticket and the SUV was let go with out anything.
*At least one patrol car knocked someone off their bike.
*At least one patrol van was filled with cops banging on their windows and making Ape sounds. This must be the C.P.R. (courtesy, professionalism and respect the police have labeled on each one of their vehicles. (Insert Monkey sounds here)
*Video footage shows cops giving 200 dollar fines for people on bicycles not participating in critical mass for having one wheel over a little bit of the white crosswalk line and being charged with running red lights.
*A New York Times reporter was arrested near Tompkins Square Park with credentials and notebook in plain site of the police who later lied and asked the reporter why he had his credentials hidden. He was also video taped being arrested and violently thrown on the hood of a car by three officers by I-witness video and by Channel 7 news.
Meanwhile Jim Dwyer, Pulitzer Prize winner and NYTimes journalist who broke the story about how police were editing footage to lie about people’s behavior at RNC was in the Time’s up space watching street footage come in. There was a really good coordinated video team out there documenting the police misconduct.
There was also a very impressive crew lead by Freewheels on hand waiting at 1 police plaza in the rain. I went down there at 1:30am to wait for a friend who was arrested and saw about 20 dedicated people with legal paperwork, spare bikes and Chinese food for weary arrestees. Who says we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do jail support?
I think this was a very successful ride, despite the police turning our streets into a police state where anyone with a bicycle can be subject to arrest, immature and dangerous cop behavior made up on the spot and general harassment. It sounds like most of the 18 arrests came out of police frustration because we have become more organized and better equipped in dealing with the NYPD moronic behavior.
I urge everyone to learn form this, discuss the future of the ride, make donations, call city council and make the rides more active and more fun. This battle is far from over and Smolka will be turning new shades of purple on the next ride.