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There have been many conflicts during Critical Mass bicycling events resulting in arrests or requiring police presence. Critics say that Critical Mass, a bicycling advocacy event held primarily in large metropolitan cities, is a deliberate attempt to obstruct automotive traffic and disrupt normal city functions, since individuals taking part refuse to obey traffic laws.
On May 11, 2007 an incident occurred in Berkeley, California when a motorist met an intersection with dozens of bicycles crossing. Bicycle advocates claim that the driver shouted, "I'm sick of you people," while bicyclists were in the intersection. It is not clear who had the right of way. The driver attempted to strike the cyclists and drive through the ride. The motorist and his wife, two witnesses, and the police alleged the bikers threw their bicycles under the vehicle. This is disputed by other witnesses. Critical Mass participants then rocked the vehicle, pounded the hood, and broke its windshield. $3000 worth of damage was done to the bicycles. Berkeley police did not make any arrests in the incident. Video of the incident was posted on the Internet.
Police in New York claimed that Critical Mass bicyclists corking intersections to allow bikes to pass may delay emergency vehicles in the gridlock.
During the US 2004 Republican National Convention police arrested 250 riders after the ride caused "massive disruptions" in the city. Many court cases resulted regarding the legality of the ride, whether police have the right to arrest cyclists and seize bicycles, and whether the event needs a permit. In December 2004, a federal judge dismissed New York City's injunction against Critical Mass as a "political event." On March 23, 2005, the city filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent Time's Up!, a direct action, environmental group promoting or advertising Critical Mass rides. The lawsuit also stated Time's Up! and the public could not ride or gather at a Critical Mass bike ride, claiming a permit was required.
During a bicycle rally on July 25, 2008, NYPD patrolman Patrick Pogan pushed Christopher Long, a rider, off his bicycle. In a criminal complaint, Pogan wrote that he had ordered Long to stop because he was weaving in and out of traffic, forcing vehicles to swerve or stop, and generally disrupting the normal flow of traffic. Pogan wrote that he suffered lacerations on his arms because Long steered his bike into him and knocked him down, and that when he tried to place Long under arrest, Long began flailing, kicking and screaming, "You are pawns in the game!" Long spent the next day in police custody on charges of attempted assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
Within days, members of Time's Up!, the organization that sponsored the rally, posted a video of the incident on YouTube. The video contradicted almost every aspect of the officer's report by showing that all vehicle traffic had already been stopped, Pogan had lunged towards the bicycle, Long had attempted to steer away, and that Long was knocked on the ground while Pogan remained on his feet. The video went viral and received over 400,000 hits within five days, as Critical Mass activists claimed it supported their claims that the police department has demonstrated a pattern of arresting participants in the rally on false charges. Witnesses also disputed Pogan's account, saying that Long was the one to receive injuries, traffic was stopped for the rally, and that Pogan had simply scanned the group of cyclists to find one he could take down.
The union that represents NYPD officers said Pogan was just doing his job to protect the public from a reckless bike rider, and his father â€” himself a retired NYPD detective â€” defended him, saying,"You gotta do what you gotta do to make an arrest." The prosecutor's office dismissed the charges against Long. NYPD then placed Pogan, who had spent only three weeks as a police officer, on a desk assignment while the city investigated the incident.
On December 16, 2008, Pogan appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to felony charges of falsifying business records and filing a false instrument and misdemeanor charges of third-degree assault, second-degree harassment and making a punishable false written statement. After the indictment, the police department suspended Pogan. Two months later, Pogan resigned as the department prepared to fire him. His attorney said that his defense would center on the department's training procedures and claims that events occurring off-camera needed to be taken into account.
On July 8, 2009, it was reported that Long, then a Hoboken, NJ, resident, was suing the New York Police Department for $1.5M, alleging that Pogan falsified his arrest report in order to legitimize his assault on Long.
During his trial in April 2010, Pogan acknowledged that the video looked "very extreme." He testified that he anticipated a collision with Long since the rider lowered his right shoulder as the officer approached. Jurors found Pogan not guilty of harassment and assault and acquitted him of four of the seven counts. He was found guilty of filing a criminal complaint that contained false statements concerning the cyclist. He will be sentenced on June 23 and is not eligible to become a New York City police officer in the future as a convicted felon. Long said in an interview he was pleased with the verdict, in part because it would prevent Pogan from becoming a New York City police officer again.
The San Francisco Police Department has addressed rides with a variety of tactics in 16 years. Attempts to direct rides and crack down on riders with arrests have failed. The SFPD has often received calls from from other law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada trying to respond to Critical Mass Rides. A lieutenant advised he is willing to share San Francisco Police Department tactics with anyone who asks.
On the night of the July 25, 1997 ride 5000 riders participated in the ride which resulted in congested traffic, confrontations with motorists, and arrests. Interest and tension had been growing for several weeks due to increased rhetoric from then-Mayor Willie Brown in regards to cracking down on the event. The local newspapers published a city-approved route after the mayor withdrew his threat to have bicyclists arrested for not obtaining a parade permit. Most of the participants ignored the route and separated into several groups. Verbal and physical altercations occurred between motorists and bicyclists as well as between riders and police. Two officers reported injuries in confrontations with bike riders. Local media reported "about 250" bicyclists being arrested for moving violations, being drunk in public, battery, and outstanding warrants.
Bennett Hall, a photographer, witnessed a police officer writing a citation for a bicyclist he claimed had committed no offense. Hall alleged that while he was photographing the event a police officer arrested him and seized his camera. Another pedestrian attempted to take the camera to bring it to the San Francisco Chronicle, but was also arrested.
On the March 2007 ride in San Francisco, a rider was arrested on felony (later reduced to misdemeanor) charges in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood for denting a limousine using a bicycle lock. The driver told police he got out of his car to talk to two cyclists who allegedly blocked his path. After exchanging words with one, the driver said he grabbed one of the bikes and tried to pull it out of the way. He then got back into his limo to go round the riders. Before he could move, he said, another cyclist smacked into the side of his car, then punched the hood with a U-shaped lock. The cyclist told police he only hit the limousine after the driver gunned his engine. During the incident, one of its tires was slashed and the driver's keys were stolen.
Near the end of the ride, near the Japan Center and Western Addition neighborhoods, a resident of Redwood City, California tried to drive through the mass of riders. A witness claimed to have observed the driver strike a cyclist and flee before cyclists chased and surrounded her vehicle. The driver denied striking a cyclist and alleged that hundreds of cyclists surrounded her minivan while she and her 11- and 13-year-old daughters were inside, banged on her car, scratched the paint, and threw a bicycle through the rear window of the vehicle, causing $5,300 in damage.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, in April 2007, requested that Critical Mass riders police themselves. "It does the bicycle-advocacy community no good to have people that are aggressive and dispirit the entire movement," Newsom said. "I would encourage the bicycle coalition to say, 'Look, we don't put up with this, enough is enough.'"
In September 2005, a few weeks after the 7 July 2005 bombings, Metropolitan Police required the organisers to provide a route six days before the event. In addition, they placed strict restrictions on riders under threat of arrest. The threat was retracted when politicians and cyclist groups objected. The following ride, October 2005, had close to 1200 participants. A long stop in Parliament Square, part of the Government's exclusion area in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 led to a slow and cumbersome ride.
One participant sought a declaration from the High Court of England and Wales that police need not be notified about the rides, in a "friendly action" in which neither side sought damages. The ruling agreed, exempting Critical Mass from notification under Section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986. The ruling was reversed on appeal. In 2008 Friends of the Earth, who supported the legal action, said the case would be appealed to England's highest legal authority, the House of Lords, on the grounds that, after 11 years, Critical Mass is "commonly or customarily held". In October 2008 the House of Lords ruled in favour of the Critical Mass participant.
Two riders were arrested during the June 2006 ride in Seattle, Washington after a fight with two undercover detectives whom the bikers confused for gang members. Witnesses dispute the Sheriff's Office claim that the detectives identified themselves. The King County Sheriff's office decided not to press felony charges in the case, saying there were too many issues over the circumstances surrounding the allegations.
On July 25, 2008 Critical Mass prevented a motorist from driving from a curbside parking space into cyclists in Seattle's Critical Mass on East Aloha. The motorist made statements to Seattle Police that he drove away, hitting riders and bicycles, and told the press that he "freaked out and overreacted" when bicyclists threatened to tip his vehicle. According to some witnesses, the motorist drove into at least two cyclists and tried to flee.
A group of riders caught the vehicle, broke its rear windshield, slashed the tires, and assaulted the motorist when he got out. Damage to the car was estimated at $1500. The motorist was struck in the back of his head by a bike lock and later hospitalized. Two cyclists were arrested for vandalism to the car. Seattle Police did not charge the motorist.
On July 27, 2007 in Vilnius, Lithuania, police took five participants into custody, including two minors, for not following orders to disband. At least two reported to have been beaten and injured[?] by police.
On the August 31, 2007 ride in Minneapolis, a confrontation occurred between cyclists and the police. The police presence included undercover officers, three marked squad cars, a state patrol helicopter, and unmarked vehicles. The ride had been linked with weekend protests of the following year's Republican National Convention. After the arrest of a cyclist for "riding in a snake-like manner," cyclists began chanting "let him go" and "what's the charge?" The police called for help, and dozens of police officers responded, using chemical mace, and tazers. Minneapolis police arrested 19 participants, including three minors. The adults were arrested on suspicion of rioting, a gross misdemeanor.
Chicago Police Department officers are often seen riding with the Critical Mass and squad cars block intersections to provide safe passage Critical Mass rides. However, on August 31, 2007, seven riders were arrested on charges of obstructing traffic and disobeying police. The seven were held overnight. According to some of those arrested, they were released at late night/early morning. On multiple occasions, Critical Mass has attempted to ride on Lake Shore Drive, a road that is normally off limits to cyclists. Police will not tolerate participants riding on Lake Shore Drive, and will go as far as blocking entrance ramps with squad cars whenever Critical Mass rides approach the lake.
On Friday June 20, 2008, a car bumped into the rear wheel of one of the participants of the ride. An oral argument ensued between the driver and passenger of the car and the cyclist involved, after which both of the passenger and driver of the car assaulted the cyclist. The police arrived and arrested both the passenger and driver of the automobile involved in the assault.
At dusk on March 28, 2008 police collided with a young woman on a bike while trying to stop another bicycle for traffic infractions. She fell and hit her head on the ground, and sustained injuries requiring hospitalization. No arrests were made, but the police did issue citations and confiscate bicycles.
On May 30, 2003, in an incident known locally as "Critical Massacre", police stopped two cyclists for "failure to yield to an emergency vehicle." Several people were allegedly attacked by police. Nine cyclists were arrested, three were convicted, including a journalist.
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