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RNC round 1: Critical Mass vs. NYPD


How Do You Spell "Intimidation"? N-Y-P-D


by the Corporate Mofo Web Staff



Corporate Mofo reader/Fark mod Gwinny writes in:

I've done Critical Mass in the past—it's always been a great, peaceful way of taking over the streets via the best way of getting around Manhattan, the bicycle.

When I showed up this time, it was pretty clear things were going to be different. There were lots of cops on scooters who were handing out bike rules, for one thing. For another, there were about three times as many riders as normal.

We headed south with no incident, then west and up sixth Avenue. There were cops blocking us from going into Herald Square (a block from Madison Square Garden), so we headed east again, north on Madison then west on 55th Street. The whole way we were shouting anti-Bush slogans and were being cheered by 90 percent of the passerby.

At seventh Avenue, we headed south again and biked triumphantly through Times Square. I was pretty near the front of the group at this point, so I saw the leaders turn onto 42nd Street then turn back up onto Broadway, going the wrong way up the street to head back into Times Square. I didn't think this was a good idea. . . indeed, two bikers clipped cops on their bikes and were immediately wrestled to the ground and arrested. These were the first two arrests ever to take place during a Critical Mass protest.

I walked back across Times Square with my bike and rejoined the southward flow. We did ride past Madison Square Garden, chanting "NO BUSH!" at the top of our lungs. In the West Village we hung eastward to go to the East Village, our final destination. Thousands of bikers circled Tompkins Square Park a few times before heading over to St. Mark's Church on Second Avenue. By now the police presence was much more aggressive, heading down streets the wrong way to cut us off, etc. Second Avenue from 10th Street up to 13th and then eastward on that street was completely choked with bikers. I stood on a fence in front of St. Mark's Church and watched the spectacle until the police vans started to arrive .. . at this point I left, not wanting to be arrested and all. I guess I was lucky—not only were hundreds of arrests made there shortly thereafter, but apparently there were a number of arrests made along the route as well.

It was exhilarating to take part in such a huge movement of social upheaval. I am sure others will have more exciting stories than I do since I escaped completely unscathed, but I'm just glad to have participated.


Corporate Mofo Staff Member Mistress Rowena continues the narrative. . .

On the pretext of getting a slice of pizza and some ice cream, I emerged onto Second Ave to investigate the annoying drone of helicopters that had been taxing my already limited powers of concentration. What I saw looked like a cops-only version of Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade: Blue police barricades lined the sidewalks as dozens of police motorcycles proceeded slowly down Second Avenue, past my vantage point at the corner of 13th, followed by roughly the same number of police cars, vans and SUVs, with lights on and sirens blaring. Last came the buses, eerily reminiscent of the school buses of my youth, except I don't remember the metal mesh over the windows or NY DEPT OF CORRECTIONS stenciled on the sides. There were two news vans, but both were from Channel 7. As about the tenth bus passed, followed by yet more copmobiles of various shapes and sizes, I thought, "Holy crap, this must be big." The largest scheduled protest, the United for Peace and Justice march, wasn't till Sunday. Tonight was mostly given over to musical and theater protests and parties at various low-key venues, with no individual event expected to draw a huge crowd. The only reason I wasn't with Corporate Mofo himself at an exhibit of anti-Bush photographs at a gallery in Brooklyn at that very moment was because I was too chickenshit to cross the bridge

"What could draw this big a turnout?" I asked one of the crew-cut boys in blue, since he was blocking my passage down Second Ave to Café Viva anyway.

"Protest," he mumbled.

Well, duh. But which one? Innumerable Bush-bashing groups are descending on NYC this weekend (that is, the ones that aren't already based here) to lend their slogans to the cause. I tried to follow the path of the spotlight shining down from the hovering helicopter—make that, hovering three helicopters—but all I could see was that it was somewhere in the vicinity of St. Mark's Place.

I crossed Second between cop cars—at this point, they had blocked the whole street and couldn't move down it any further—and no one stopped me. On both sides, cops were standing two abreast with arms outstretched, like they were playing Red Rover, but their purpose seemed to be to stop pedestrians from walking down Second towards whatever was going on while simultaneously urging the increasing crowd of the curious to "disperse." I reluctantly headed over to Third, down a block, then back over to Second. Nobody stopped me from heading back up half a block to Viva and, as I waited for my slice of Bella (spinach, red onions, feta and mozzarella with pesto on a whole wheat crust, if you must know) to be warmed up, I got bits and pieces of the story.

The last Friday of the month is Critical Mass's regular night to promote pollution-free transportation with a free-spirited ride through Manhattan. Tonight's ride was especially well-attended (one media estimate was 5,000) because it coincided (not coincidentally) with the National Bike Convention, and took on, shall we say, overt anti-Bush overtones. In advance of this ride, the NYPD had warned Critical Mass that arrests would be made if cyclists broke NYC's cycling laws, which include not riding on sidewalks, not riding more than two abreast and obeying traffic signals. Critical Mass's point, for anyone who's been living in a cave without Internet access (if there are any left), is to take back the streets for non-polluting vehicles, so blocking motorized traffic is a normal part of their MO. In the past, it has been frowned upon, but tolerated, by the authorities. Tonight, their pre-ride assembly in Union Square was met by the hovering helicopters and officers passing out fliers detailing the traffic laws and the consequences if they were broken. When the ride set off at around 7:15 pm, they were followed by cops on scooters who attempted to scatter them, or so I was told.

According to one news source, the ride splintered with some factions heading uptown but the whole affair ending at a planned after party at St. Mark's Church. That's the point where I came in. The cops were following the bikers, who had blocked traffic and gone through red lights as per usual, albeit with larger numbers and chanting anti-Bush slogans, to arrest them for disorderly conduct at the party. I saw open trucks piled high with bikes and stopped to ask a cop why they were being confiscated. He assured me that they had only confiscated the bikes of riders who continued to block pedestrians after they had been asked to move. I was seeing lots of folks circling the cops and jeering and I couldn't discern a method to the madness of who was arrested and who was not. Cops in riot gear, with dozens of plastic cuffs hooked to their belts next to their prominent nightsticks, circled the church menacingly but made no attempt to stop me or anyone else as I peered through the bikes chained to the church railings at the remains of the party. It was hard to tell if the police tape was festooned around the trees by the cops or was a form of counter-cultural decoration. Weirdest of all, throughout the entire fracas, New Yorkers in the sidewalk cafes along Second sipped their sangria and chatted happily, as if the whole world merely served as entertainment for their consumption. (This included me, as I munched my pizza.)

The most pressing question on my mind was whether they'd get their bikes back. They were being piled none too gently in the trucks, stacked so haphazardly that they looked like accident victims with their limbs bent at wrong angles. The same cop assured me that they could claim them tomorrow. At first, I felt a pang of guilt that my bike was not with me in the city, especially after hearing that one of my friends had ridden (and wisely gone home instead of to the after-party). But once I saw the mangled bikes, I changed my mind.

Later, I read on the news that 250 arrests had been made, which seems like a lot if it was only asshats who were being provocative after the ride, but very few if it was a random round-up of anyone who had ridden. My conclusion is that the cops chose an early, familiar and notoriously peaceful event to serve as an example for the remainder of the convention. There was ample posturing, a grossly out of proportion show of force, and numerous arrests, but no apparent hands-on brutality to give the protesters any ammunition in claiming that violence was used against peaceful demonstrators.

I saw exactly one sign ("Bush can kiss my black ass"), one anti-Bush T-shirt sported by several college-age hotties ("Save the trees, not the Bushes"), and heard exactly one overgrown hippie, obviously feeling like hadn't since the '60s, in khakis, belt and bicycle helmet chanting "Dump Bush" and "This is a waste of our tax money." Amen.

Check back for daily updates from the Circus, if we live that long.


Other reports and rumors:

One bicyclist was slightly injured when rapper Foxy Brown hit him with her car at the intersection of 23rd and 6th. If you have a tape of this, drop us a line, someone wants to give you a lot of money for it.

The police were also allegedly knocking bicyclists off ther bikes, macing them, and arresting them; see Indymedia for details.


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Posted August 28, 2004 3:29 AM






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