Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NYC Critical Mass: Put Cuffs on the NYPD

Most of you may know already what happened at last Friday's (July 25th) Critical Mass in New York.

A New York City police officer is videotaped ripping a cyclist off his bike, and throwing him to the ground at the monthly event that draws between 300 and 500 cyclists.

The moment was captured on video tape and posted on YouTube for all to see.

Although there is no videotape of what the policeman saw, the rider did have a bike bag strapped on his back--making it look perhaps like a gun--and there is also no sound captured of what the policeman or the cyclist said--the cop's behavior is hard to explain.

But eyewitness accounts--one anonymous, said she was behind the cyclist, and he was just minding his own business and enjoying the ride when the cop came at him and threw him down. The cyclist, Christopher Long, of Hoboken, N.J., wasn't wearing a helmet, so the officer's action could have killed him, wrote anonymous posters to ebikes.

What's worse, the NYPD officer lied on his arrest report, saying that the cyclist deliberately hit him and caused him to sustain injuries, according to FoxNews .

Long was arrested because he was obstructing traffic in Times Square, a criminal complaint, according to police records. He was charged with attempted assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

The police report said that Long, 29, deliberately steered his bicycle into the officer, causing both of them to fall to the ground.

Good thing the videographer was there: it shows the officer deliberately--and aggressively--moving towards the cyclist and taking him down.

An isolated incident? Not so, say many writers to ebikes, a popular electronic exchange in New York.

Said Jesse Rechtschaffer, who often participates in the monthly ride, "This past May CM I was also arrested at Times Square. They grabbed me, threw me to the ground and stomped on my head. I'm glad I was wearing a helmet, " she wrote. The icing on the cake? Recht was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Many other cyclists reiterated her account, accusing the police of routinely using their badges as an excuse to rough up cyclists.

They are also glad the real behavior of police is finally being shown to the world. "I'm glad this cop was disciplined so quickly and I hope he's fired and charged and convicted of assault himself, " said Rechtschaffer: " I hope that now that the NYPD has egg on their face about this, that they will change their ways."

Martin Sarna who rides his bike to work every day was shocked recently to see a Ghost Bike memorializing Amelia Geocos, a 24-year-old rider, at First Avenue and 49th St., along his bike route to work. That's why the recent events make him so angry:

"The cops treat every critical mass ride like a riot -- they get themselves crazy. I've seen them preparing for them at Union Square. I asked a cop what was going on (because so many cops were assembling in one place with riot gear) and the guy said "it's a riot." Later that
night I found out that it was just that month's Critical Mass ride," wrote Sarna.

"I think the cops should be less antagonistic towards cyclists and more about enforcing protection for them," he added.

That note rings true for Critical Mass rides around the country: In Seattle, an aggressive motorist trying to exit his parking spot during a Critical Mass ride there was allegedly roughed up by cyclists. The matter was reported widely in the news: the cyclists, not the driver, who was driving a 3-ton weapon into a group of defenseless cyclists--were arrested.

A commentary by Ken Schram on Komo News in Seattle came out squarely in defense of the motorist, and lambasted the Seattle police for not doing more to regulate cyclists.

Schram misses the point entirely: he should blame the lack of passable, safe, and ubiquitous bike routes in Seattle, New York, and all across the United States. All Schram need do is take a trip to Switzerland, Copenhagen or the gem of all examples in safe bicycle transit, Amsterdam, to see how a city should cope with cyclists.

The city administration needs to work harder to make changes to the street infrastructure, but in the meantime, they need to put cuffs on the police force.

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