Union Square North. February Critical Mass, Farewell to Chief Smolka…photo by Jordan Groh
Last Friday, we bid farewell to former Assistant police chief Bruce Smolka at what is left of NYC critical mass. The crowd of a hundred or so revelers, gathered at Union Square and were serenaded by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a rag-tag marching band who have been playing street performances and protests for several years now. The band comes complete with coordinated dancers who dazzled the crowd of freezing bikers as they congregated in the North side of Union Square Park, the normal gathing point for the monthly critical mass bike ride.
RMO picture by Jordan Groh
The police were floating around as usual, lined up with scooters, SUV’s and 15 passanger vans, waiting for the bikers to take off. This is the normal bigade of intimidation and excess the police like to unveil at each ride to strike fear into the hearts of a peaceful and non-confrontational bike ride. Bruce Smolka has been the main force behind this type of activity, overseeing critical mass and doing everything in his power to stop this event that for 10 years the police never had a problem with and which also takes place in over 300 cities around the world. NYC has set the precedence for the phenomenon known as critical mass, spending several years wittling down the ridership with violent intimidation and reckless behavior. The police claim the main goal of critical mass is for riders to go out and stop traffic which couldn’t be further from the truth. One of the goals of critical mass is to promote alternative transportation and to move freely about the city. Traffic is stopped so the ride can stay together causing most vehicles to be delayed a maximum of 5 minutes. Normally the traffic is stopped by the police.
On this critical mass, the group followed the Rude Mechanical Orchestra North out of Union Square up Park Ave. South. People respected the precious automobile traffic and chose to march on the sidewalk. All traffic laws were obeyed by the people and the police proceeded to break the laws by riding their mopeds through red lights and down the wrong way of oneway streets. How nice. The police were extremely confused that most people were walking their bicycles. They must have been thinking…”Where are they going?” “Why are they not disrupting traffic?” “Why are the anarchists all peacefully walking on the sidewalk?” The police couldn’t comprehend that the group was celebrating the retirement of their beloved police chief. They even brought gifts. The marchers arrived at the 13th precinct on East 21st street. There they lined up on the sidewalk and a few riders tried to present Smolka with a retirement present, a nice bicycle, with flashing police lights…a real gem. Turns out Smolka wasn’t around. So someone made a speech and then people went there seperate ways. No ride. They gave the police a break.
Crowd infront of 13th, photo by Jordan Groh
Well, here we are. The parade rules go into effect and state that it is illegal for 50 or more cyclists to ride together in the street without a permit.
We shall see what happens. As the Sinatra song goes…”If I can make it there (NYC) I’ll make it anywhere…” could be interpreted for critical mass as “If they (NYPD) can shut it down here (NYC) they can shut it down anywhere…Its up to YOU New York, New York.” Other cities beware.
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