Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Parade Rule Hearings: Sham or Democracy?

November 28, 2006--Public hearings held to discuss new parade rules being proposed by the city's police department were derided by some as a veiled attempt to put an end to the Friday critical mass events at the same time that attendance was hobbled by large security lines that turned cyclists away.

Bike riders gathered at 10 a.m. to travel from Union Square on 14th St., a location symbolic also as the starting point for most monthly critical mass rides, to the location of the public hearings being held at One Police Plaza. Some of the group of about 35 cyclists wore sheep hats, and as drivers passed they offered a thumb's up in support.

After waiting on long lines to get through x-ray machines, where many cyclists holding pumps, liquids and other bike accessories were turned away, advocates and lawyers long involved in defending the rights of cyclists and free speech advocates made prepared but impassioned speeches against the measure, many of using strong language in front of a packed audience of more than 100 people.

Despite polite treatment by police officers through security, as well as the more than 20 that lined the interior of the hearing room, those attending the event remarked that with its tight security and overwhelming police presence, One Police Plaza was not the appropriate venue for a public hearing.

Norman Siegel the lawyer who has been representing many cyclists after they were arrested for appearing in spontaneous bike rides said that the rules were about "getting critical mass," because it is clear that vehicles who ride in the same large groups, "don't need permission when they obey the laws."

He was referring to the new definition of a parade outlined in the proposal which says that if 30 people or more are marching or riding without a permit, and obeying traffic rules, they would be subject to arrest. The new rule also proposes that between 10 and 29 people without a permit who do not obey traffic rules would also be breaking the law.

Mr. Siegel then motioned to the panel made up of officials who were there to listen to the public comment, and called them "props in a presentation." Turning to the audience he said, "You are the hope."

A lawyer representing the New York Bar Association Peter T. Barbur, said New York law can only be enforced by the police department, not legislated and It is the job of the city council to define parades and the criteria for granting permits. He also said that if adopted, Chapter 19 of Title 38 of the Official Rules of New York, would "impose dramatic new restrictions on peaceful protests and other public gatherings," in addition to normal outings like funerals, weddings, baseball games, and school trips.

Spontaneous protests are "means of expression that are the cornerstone of our democratic system," he added.

Steve Stollman, a longtime activist who offers his space on Houston St. for many cyclists' gatherings especially after critical mass rides said, "This city is guilty of not enforcing laws against the most dangerous vehicle", and that they were "ignoring the potential to make this city a more attractive place."

Daniel Lieberman, the founder of ebikes, one of the most important and influential electronic exchanges in the city that allows cyclists to discuss issues in a private forum, referenced Franz Kafka well known for his book, "The Trial" about a character named Josef K., who awakens one morning and, for reasons unknown to him, is arrested and subjected to the rigours of the judicial process for an unspecified crime. "When is a ride a parade?" he asked, noting that the law was too broad and vague.

It was unclear at the end of the day whether the words of cyclists and rights advocates had any effect. As Mr. Siegel pointed out, members of the panel sat mutely through the proceedings, not asking for clarification from speakers.

Gale Brewer, councilwoman for District 6 of the upper west side said that cyclists and pedestrians, the two groups targeted by this proposed rule, alleviate traffic burdens and shouldn’t be hindered.

David Yassky, councilman, (33rd Bklyn. ) said the proposed rules were "no different than the loitering laws that time-and-again have been found unconstitutional," and called them "a mistake."

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that the proposed law “opens the door to the arrest of law-abiding citizens,” and that "The NYPD already has the power it needs” to make arrests. She also noted that the permitting process is bureaucratic and unreliable, and needs to be moved to another agency.

Christine Quinn, City Council Speaker was notably absent from the hearings, though she has said publicly that the new proposal is an improvement over the last proposal put forward by the police department.

Other important and impassioned pleas were heard from Noah Budnick, deputy director of advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, the oldest, and most well-known bike advocate group in the city; Roger Wareham, activist and attorney for the December 12th Movement; Susan Stetzer, district manager, Community Board 3 in Manhattan; Rosie Mendez, councilwoman, Dist.2 Manh.; Ken Coughlin, longtime advocate and head of Carfree Central Park; Sargeant Noel Leader, co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care; Leticia James, councilwoman dist. 35, Bklyn; Dr. Alex Vitale, professor of Sociology of Crime and Deviance at Brooklyn College; and Mitchel Cohen, editor of Green Politix, Green Party USA newspaper.

This story was reported by Eugene Boronow, who was on the scene, and written by Jen Benepe

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hearing on New Parade Rules Today

November 27, 2006--Public hearings will be held on the controversial new parade rules being proposed by the city's police department that seeks to bar cyclists from partaking in the monthly critical mass rides.
The new rules aim to limit any group of 10 cyclists that do not follow traffic rules, or any group of 30 cyclists that do follow traffic rules, from engaging in a group activity. The police department has long maintained that they do not feel they would have control over the safety of New Yorkers should a critical mass event block city streets when an emergency situation--such as a 9/11 or other terrorist event--take place.
The hearings will take place at One Police Plaza, just a few blocks east of the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. Neither Times Up!, Transportation Alternatives, nor Assembly for Rights NYC, the ad hoc group assembled to fight this measure, have told cyclists where they can park their parks, nor have they organized bike parking for the event. Directions to the event are also notably absent from these sites.
Cyclists have long maintained, and justifiably so, that cars and car traffic pose a far greater danger for blocking the proper response to an emergency than do cyclists, who can disburse on foot at a moment's notice.
Indeed, in a great emergency, experts have often commented that the city--and neighboring areas such as Long Island and New Jersey would become instant parking lots.
Top ranking police officers have also told Benepe's Bike Blog off the record that since arrests made during the Republican National Convention they have information that there are unknown "anarchists" who were not part of the original critical mass group, who are possibly terrorists and who do not have the best interests of the city in mind who have infiltrated the world of critical mass and the groups that support the event, including Times Up!
While it is impossible to verify whether terrorists have really infiltrated the cyclists' milieu, it is reasonable to assume that they could much more easily assume the shape of a normal citizen in a fleet of taxis or a group of trucks, and those motorists could also more easily set off traps, block roadways, or create chaos at a moment's notice, say cyclists.
The New York Bar Association came out against the newest proposal saying in their testimony submitted for today's hearing that the department's new definition of a parade that requires a permit is a serious and unwarranted infringement on associational freedom. The Bar's comments side with the proposal put out by Assembly for Rights NYC, that asks that the City Council approve parade permits, and not the police department.
The ad hoc group, whose member identities are not disclosed on their website, and who do not advertise a contact name or phone number, lack the very transparency that they hope to find in this public forum. They also note on their site that police already have the right to arrest cyclists under other laws.
But every series of arrests have been more or less successfully overturned in New York City courts with legal assistance.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn has commented publicly that this new police proposal is less draconian than the first proposal which was met by a great hue and cry from the cyclist community and civil rights groups.
However, she has not said publicly whether she thinks this new proposal is fair or appropriate. It could be that the police have been sharing their own private concerns about public safety--concerns that if aired publicly would have a greater chance of being weighed on the merits rather than on an emotional basis.
Another event involving New York police, the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Sean Bell in Queens yesterday, may vy for media attention today, depriving rights' activists and the issue, their day in the sun.

For more details:
According to a summary posted at http://www.assembleforrightsnyc.org/node/14, the new proposed rules are as follows:

A "parade [or procession]" is: 1) any [march, motorcade, caravan, promenade, foot or bicycle race, or similar event of any kind,] procession or race which consists of a group of ten or more pedestrians, vehicles, bicycles or other devices moved by human power, or ridden or herded animals proceeding together upon any public street or roadway for more than two city blocks in a manner that does not comply with all applicable traffic laws, rules and regulations; or 2) any procession or race which consists of a recongnizable group of 30 or more vehicles, bicycles or other devices moved by human power, or ridden or herded animals proceeding together upon any public street or roadway

This is an amendment to Section 1. Subdivision (a) of section 19-02 of Title 38 of the Official Compilation of the Rules of the City of New York.

Put more simply here is what the new rule are:

1) Groups of 10 or more bicyclists or pedestrians who plan to travel more than two city blocks without complying with traffic laws will require a permit or be subject to arrest.

2) Groups of 30 or more bicyclists or vehicles which obey traffic laws will also require a permit or be subject to arrest

Friday, November 10, 2006

Brooklyn Driver Charged in Fatal Hit and Run

Bertilde Gabriel, the driver. Photo, NY Post.

November 10, 2006--The driver in a hit and run accident in Brooklyn that killed a 5-year-old boy and critically injured his mother Wednesday was charged with criminal negligence yesterday.

The driver, Bertilde Gabriel, 52, killed Christopher Frombrum, 5 when she tried to escape another accident that occurred a few seconds previously. She swerved, drove onto the sidewalk, and mowed through the family of four killing Frombrum on the scene and injuring his mother Rachel Dorce, and her two other children, 6-year-old Aldeline and 8-year-old Joshua. The mother is in a coma, according to the NY Post.

Gabriel was charged in Brooklyn Criminal Court yesterday with first-degree assault, a felony, criminally negligent homicide and leaving the scene of an accident.

A recent post to ebikes asked if the fact that she is a woman may have been the reason for a tougher charge.

First of all, Brooklyn has the toughest response of the five boroughs to reckless driving. One of the reasons, they have traditionally had the most traffic fatalities, and their District Attorney, Charles Hynes is better than most on this particular issue. Their office carries out more extensive investigations of accidents, and they are more aggressive in pursuing criminal penalties, according to previous Assistant DA Maureen McCormick.

Secondly, Gabriel drove away from the first accident, crime one, and onto the the sidewalk, crime two. There, she hit four people, and killed one, then tried to drive away again, but was stopped by other drivers 2 blocks away! That's crime three.

News reports said she was tested for alcohol, so if she was completely in control of her senses, she drove away from both accidents with full recognition of what she had done. In other words, she was neither repentant nor upset that she just ran into four people. The impact of the accident was so great that Frombrum was knocked about 20 feet according to reports, and his mother was knocked out of her shoes, which lay on the sidewalk after the accident.

The level of criminality is established based on the amount of care you take when compared to another reasonable person in a similar situation. The law holds that the greater the disregard you show in an accident, the greater the penalties will be.

In fact, it looks like she is getting away with the lesser of these--"criminal negligence" versus "criminal intent".

Here are the levels defined by NYS penal code, 125.10:

Most criminal "vehicular manslaughter" charges require that a person perceived a risk and disregarded it intentionally in killing someone. That would be a very drunk person who blatantly disregards traffic law. Of these there can be manslaughter in the first degree (worst) or in the second degree (not as bad). These are determined subjectively by the judge but the conditions are often based on objective previous rulings (precedents).

In determining "criminal negligence", a driver needs to be found negligent, a class E felony, where they "failed to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death, constituting a gross deviation from standard that a reasonable person would observe in this situation."

Criminal recklessness, a lesser offense, is when a driver is found to be reckless.

You might be surprised to learn that the penalties for "criminal negligence" if found guilty, runs anywhere from probation to six years in jail, but most of the time, the judge softens the sentence.

Much of this is complicated by the informal rule of thumb called "rule of two" in which a judge looks to see that two laws were committed in a very gross way, such as running a red light, AND going 75 mph in a 30 mph zone.

Maureen McCormick who was the assistant DA for Brooklyn for many years said some judges don't even punish drivers who were caught going 100 mph and killed someone as a result: "They say in effect, 'boys will be boys'" she said. In other words, they look for two gross deviations from the law to establish any criminal culpablity. Then the standard of deviation from normal care is used in assessing the criminal penalty.

These topics are covered in detail in my article Deadly Streets, which covers the application of criminal law in NYC, (see sidebar) or you can go to www.nycyclenews.com, and go to the About Us page, and click on the title "Deadly Streets".

If anything, Gabriel did not show any care for her victims when she left the scene of the accident. Even if there was no criminal prosecution, that would show a complete disregard for the lives of her fellow human beings.

Monday, November 06, 2006

BBB does the NYC Marathon

November, 6 2006.
Yesterday, Benepe's Bike Blog, aka, Benepe herself roused at 4:30 am to prepare for the NYC Marathon.

Not as a runner, like our dear role model, Lance Armstrong who ran what he called “the most difficult” race of his life.

I was going as a cyclist accompaniment to the wheelchair and push cycle riders at the front of the marathon organized by Richard Rosenthal, previous president of the New York Cycle Club.

The point of our involvement was to prevent crashes of the wheelchair competitors with pedestrians and motorists who might stray onto their path.

My friend Doug Daniele came along, and after missing the bus on 39th St., we rode down to a second meeting point for cyclists to cross the Brooklyn Bridge together and ride to the start.
The ride was wonderful, affording us an opportunity to get acquainted with the neighborhoods in Brooklyn. I saw some familar faces, including Herb Dershowitz, a frequent ebikes writer, and Kurt Guftasson of the Century Road Club Association. Later we saw JP Partland who was riding around with an organizer bike group .

We learned later that Kris Lau who has been on his way to meet us, was struck by a hit and run driver, and sustained several injuries, including broken bones.

We rode to a spot where Mr. Rosenthal had gathered cyclists near the foot of the Brooklyn side of the Verazzano Bridge. After eating a lot of delicious pastries donated by Tom Cat bakeries (owned by cyclist Noel Comass), standing around in the cold, and learning what we were to do, Doug managed to worm his way into the winners’ accompaniment, helping take the hand cyclist winner (not id’d on the ING website) to the finish line.

Myself and Rachel Saks from Waltham, MA, went off with a woman wheelchair competitor number 207, April Coughlin, 27, who sported long braids, and was totally awesome, as they say in CaliforniY-A. Several times she managed to pass a male competitor.
The best part was cycling through all the different neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Musical bands of all types had set up along the route, and as we traveled through we were greeted with cheers and “you go number 207” addressed to April. It was such a wonderful way to travel through the boroughs, without any cars to impede our progress, and the good will of so many onlookers.

In Greenpoint, Brooklyn I called out "cześć" which means "hi" and "bye" to the Polish crowd and they all laughed and repeated what I said. In Williamsburg, I felt transported to another place and time, not just by the typical long coats and hats worn by Hasidim, but also by the old buildings that still stood, architectural reminders of the early 1900's. Many residents also appeaared to be functioning as if they were living in the last century, as they crossed in front of us like wondrous, dark-coated ghosts without looking.

Sadly, many of the windows of the buildings in one neighborhood were barricaded with protective bars, all the way up to the top fifth and sixth floors.

On the Pulaski Bridge, I stopped for a bathroom break at the bridge lookout, which was built like a small lighthouse. I had to climb down open grill steel stairs that seemed to go on forever into the pit of the tower, and echoed loudly, pong, pong, pong, with each step of my cleated shoes.

When I came back out I saw Steve Klein, who had jumped onto the course, and was accompanying one of the wheelchair competitors. “Whatsssup!” I called. I am always running into the ubiquitous Mr. Klein, whom I have never seen in public without one of his 28 bicycles.

Once back on the course, I rode alongside hand cyclist, Kevin Riley, 45, who seemed to be moving along at quite a pace, and was unaccompanied. Despite a minor mechanical problem on the Willis Point Bridge, I rode with him almost to the finish line.

Then Doug and I watched the marathon winners come past the finish line. The women looked spectacular in their striated, thinly muscled bodies. Both in the men’s and the women’s categories, those who broke away, female runner Jelena Prokopcuka, and male runner Marilson Gomes dos Santos, were the winners.

Lance looked worse for the wear when he came through, and later is reported to have said he should have trained more. We tried belatedly to catch up with him, but he was surrounded by a posse of admirers and news folk, and Doug who is built like an armored tank, replete with tattoos, was brusquely pushed back by one of Lance’s henchmen. Lance was then quickly whisked away in a black, dark windowed SUV, like the true celebrity he has become.

But I do remember that Nike, whose brand was loudly portrayed on Lance's t-shirt, very curtly turned down my requests for funding disabled cyclists in the 1996 paralympics competition. They said time they had "no interest" in cycling.

Our sympathies go out to Kris Lau, whose accident on the way to the meeting point was just one more indicator of how dangerous it is for cyclists in New York.

Benepes Bike Blog to be Sponsored By Trek Bicycles

Benepes Bike Blog is now being sponsored by Trek, and I rode their Madone SL5.9 women’s specific design (WSD) silver-blue bike through the marathon. After resolving a couple of minor fit issues, the bike rode like a absolute dream through potholed city streets, and responded like a sleek panther to sudden demands for speed.

Tiggy (my dog) is being sponsored with her blog Tiggy Travels, with a Burley carrier, which should be arriving this week!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Brad Will, Critical Mass Documentarian

November 2, 2006--New Yorkers and Critical Mass cyclists are mourning the death of reporter Brad Will who was shot in Oaxaca, Mexico on October 27.

The independent video documentarian, whose real name was William Bradley Roland was videotaping a fracas when he was shot by armed gunmen who were allegedly hired by Oaxaca Governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, to fire against demonstrators in the neighborhood of Santa Lucia del Camino, on the fringe of Oaxaca city. His dramatic, last minute videotaped account of his own death has been posted on the Internet by Salon Chingon. He was 36 years old.

Mr. Will was well known as a documentarian among cyclists who participated regularly in the Critical Mass events that took place at the end of every month in Manhattan.

Oaxaca is also a well known area in Mexico for mountain biking, and has a significant local community of mountain and road cyclists. Benepe's Bike Blog has long been reporting on the area as a draw for cyclists because of its great mountain trails, historic significance, and low cost training advantages. Celestino Bautizo Lazo, a student there, has been the subject of a fundraiser by BBB to purchase a mountain bike for him.

Four other people have been reported killed in the ongoing struggle between Oaxaquenos and the local government since last Friday, which started very early in 2006 when teachers and administrators of the Autonomous University Benito Juarez of Oaxaca, UABJO, went out on strike for better salaries. Since the beginning of the strike, the movement has been joined by several other groups including the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, APPO, who have been demanding the resignation of Oaxaca governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

Mr. Will was a documentarian for Indymedia, a group that has been a strong supporter of the monthly Critical Mass events held by cyclists around the city. According to cyclist Jym Dyer, Indymedia was instrumental in providing videotaped evidence for cyclists who were arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention and accused of breaking the law.

Videotaped testimony provided by Indymedia helped release the cyclists who were shown on tape to be defending themselves against police actions instead of instigating violence, according to several who are familiar with the court case.

Several demonstrators protesting the death of Mr. Will outside of the Mexican Embassy in New York on October 29 were arrested by New York Police officers, and photographers and videographers from the press were pushed and shoved, and their cameras seized by members of the NYPD.

Photo by Mike Pidel

And during the October 27 Critical Mass held in Manhattan, police officers were documented videotaping and photographing cyclists from a black SUV.

President Vicente Fox of Mexico ordered federal troops into Oaxaca on Saturday to bring order to the small town which has long been a tourism hotspot for Americans and Europeans because of its ancient cobbled streets and historic sites.

Residents of Oaxaca who include previous Mexican cycling champion, Pedro Martinez, who owns a bicycle touring company there, have seen their incomes disappear as the city has become engulfed in the fight with the local government.

But no Oaxaqueno is likely to support governor Ortiz who has long been viewed as someone who stole the election, and who provides lucrative government contracts to his pals, while ordinary Oaxaquenos face increasing costs and stagnant salaries. Many cite his repaving of the historic town square, the Zocalo, with flat stones more reminiscent of a mall in California, which destroyed the town's historic character, as a symbolic and literal example of his failed governorship.

The parallels between the two towns of Manhattan in the United States, and Oaxaca in Mexico are not lost on observers. As members of the NYPD sought to prevent the press from documenting police action on October 30, governor Ortiz sent paid men to shut down the local newspaper, Las Noticias, in Oaxaca in late 2005: members of the paper have been working out of makeshift location several blocks away ever since. Governor Ortiz also reportedly shut off the electricity to the local radio station at UABJO that was providing ongoing information on the showdown with the government.