Just when you thought it was safe to ride your bike again...
After a few months of riding free, Critical Mass NYC was once again harassed by the police last night. I was very nearly arrested and in the end given a ticket (for not riding in a bike lane--that wasn't there). The arrest threat was due to my not having ID. I'd left my wallet home by mistake. Seriously.
At the time I was stopped I was riding south on 5th Avenue with 30-40 people. I guess I was toward the back of the ride, often a mistake, when a cop in a van motioned me to pull over. I eventually did, and there was some arm grabbing and "don't touch me"ing. I tried to call the National Lawyers Guild but the nice officer wanted my full attention. Another rider was being ticketed at the same time--I believe for riding on the sidewalk, which of course he hadn't done. He was on the sidewalk at the request of the cops. The other rider was from out of town, and from a place where Critical Mass is unmolested as it makes it celebratory way around the city, and so was a tad bewildered by how we were being treated. When the officer discovered I didn't have ID, he told me he was going to arrest me. I went to lock up my bike, so it wouldn't be incarcerated, as well, and he didn't like that.
While they were dealing with the other rider I had some time to call my spouse and someone from the video collective at Times-Up. Eric volunteered to go to my house and get my wallet. When I told the cop that, he decided to just take my information. I don't think he really relished the time and effort it would take to arrest my bicycle and me. I wasn't looking forward to it, but ultimately, I was prepared to be arrested. I ride in Critical Mass because it's fun, but also because I feel a duty to defend bikers' right to ride in the streets of New York and for people to assemble without a permit. If that means dealing with the occasional ticket or arrest, so be it.
Anyway, after the cop "let me off the hook" (i.e. let himself off the hook), he got a lot friendlier. This is what I mean when I say "benevolent smarm." He was all amiable and interested in where I live and what my block is like--being sure to let me know that he knows the street. In return I invited him to the Times-Up 20th Anniversary Party, advising him that if he joined Times-Up he could get in for free. His flunky wrote up my ticket (I don't even know if the other officer even witnessed my "crime.") and let me go. I hate that reflex that makes me say thank you when I'm handed a ticket or in any way let go by cops. In some cases it's like I'm thanking them for giving me a right that I already have.
Should you be ticketed or summonsed during Critical Mass in New York City:
- Follow the directions at Freewheels Bicycle Defense Fund including notifying Transportation Alternatives.
- Mail in your ticket or summons as directed.
- Post your info to Critical Mass Tickets like I did last time.
- Go to court and fight it! The majority of riders get their cases dismissed. It's a pain in the ass and takes time, but what's worse than underwriting your own oppression?
- Try to get contact info for witnesses and document your case. (e.g Take a picture of the bike lane that isn't there.) Note the names of the officers you're dealing with.
UPDATE: My fellow rider's story.