Riding high at the end of Critical Mass.
By Lincoln Anderson
If the Critical Mass bikers thought they had won some protection with a federal judges rulings in their dueling lawsuits with the city last week, Friday nights events proved that assumption wrong and left the bikers charging that the city is continuing to target them.
Saying the city had waited until too close to the date of the event, Judge William Pauley III on Oct. 28 denied the citys request for an injunction blocking the monthly ride from occurring unless it received a permit. But Pauley did grant a partial injunction on a lawsuit filed by two civil rights attorneys, Norman Siegel and Steven J. Hyman, on behalf of five Critical Mass cyclists, to prevent police from cutting locks and confiscating unattended bicycles during the ride.
By the end of last Friday night, however, police had arrested 33 bikers during the Critical Mass ride and shut down the groups after-party on E. Houston St., arresting seven more persons for disorderly conduct in the process. In addition, police cut the locks on and seized at least three bicycles near the after-party space.
The night had started with about 1,000 bikers, many in festive Halloween costumes, assembling as usual on the last Friday of the month at dusk at Union Sq. N. Police distributed fliers informing them to follow a route up Park Ave., across 55th St. and back down Fifth Ave. and Broadway to Union Sq. Police on scooters helpingly blocked cross-town traffic at all intersections along the way. However, as the riders headed back Downtown they split into four groups, some heading across 42nd St. and zigzagging down the West Side, playing cat and mouse with the police.
Police were prepared for mass arrests. No less than seven of the large orange nets used to capture bikers and protesters during the Republican National Convention were spotted in Union Sq. and two were unrolled on the street at one point
After last Fridays ride, some of the bikers celebrated at an after-party at the 49 E. Houston St. storefront space of Times Up!, a pro-bicycling, nonprofit environmental group that publicizes Critical Mass. It was described as a private affair, with donations for entry and drinks on a sliding scale. The crowd spilled onto the sidewalk in front and the party was also occurring in an open, outdoor space two doors to the west.
Around midnight, a group in the basement where bicycle wheels were hung decoratively from the ceiling like mobiles were singing Will the real Dick Cheney please stand up? to the tune of Eminems Slim Shady, while upstairs dancers grooved to house music.
Outside, bikes of all kinds customized high-rise ones and choppers worthy of The Road Warrior were piled in mounds around tree pits. A lane of traffic in the street had been blocked off with barriers by the partyers.
Wearing a white wig and disco costume and boogying in the street by the curb, Bill Di Paolo, founder and executive director of Times Up!, said the ride had been a success, despite the arrests.
Victory! Victory all around! he said, twirling a woman by the arm.
However, just minutes later, several police cars and an unmarked blue van pulled up. According to Matthew Roth, a Times Up! spokesperson, there were about 80 to 100 people inside the space and about 50 to 60 on the sidewalk outside, at the time.
Special Operations Lieutenant Carolyn Fanale of the Fifth Police Precinct in Chinatown then proceeded to go to work. A powerfully built woman with close-cropped brown hair, she was dressed for action in plain clothes, a Redskins football jersey and jean shorts. According to Atom, a man who had been watching the outdoor space, Fanale her badge clipped to her shirt collar first looked around there. A Downtown Express reporter saw her then gIve a summons to a man with dreadlocks for having an open beer on the sidewalk.
Suddenly, in a flurry of activity, Fanale next came shooting away from the Times Up! storefront, a man in a red T-shirt in tow, and threw him onto the trunk of a police car. She then made to bolt back inside the building but the bikers blocked her at the door.
Show us a warrant! they chanted. National Lawyers Guild observers still on the scene after monitoring the ride, advised the group to also chant, We do not consent to this search!
The bikers claimed Fanale had been inside the storefront space, knocking peoples beers, trying to instigate something. A black, dreadlocked undercover officer had also pushed his way in, but retreated, they said.
More police arrived and formed a cordon in front of the space. An announcement was made to disperse or face arrest. By slowly walking at the crowd on either side, the police moved them toward Mott and Mulberry Sts., clearing the the block. Some inside the Times Up! space escaped through a back entrance, though others waited for attorney Siegel to show up and help get them out.
Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the Police Departments top spokesperson, said they had received a complaint at 1:05 a.m. Saturday morning stating that Lukasz Kolodziejczyk, the manager of the Puck Building, requested that bicycles chained to his property be removed.
As for why police responded to the Times Up! party, Browne said, there was a report of 200 or more people at and in front of the location.
The responding officers saw that the crowd, including people drinking from open containers, had spilled onto E. Houston St., Browne said. They had taken some construction barriers from a nearby site to block a lane of traffic going eastbound.
Browne said the supervisor, Lieutenant Fanale, arrived and instructed other officers to give out summonses for drinking outside. However, he said, The supervisor was assaulted. They surrounded her. She was hit. A 10-85 call was put out for additional officers. Browne said his understanding was the police used great restraint.
Browne also said that My experience with this group is when they break the law, they find a way to blame the police for misconduct. We went out of our way to try to accommodate the ride that night. They blocked traffic, ran red lights and otherwise engaged in dangerous activity.
Asked why Fanale went inside the building, when the problems were outside, Browne said, We have every right to take police action in a situation like this. There are people who decided to take over part of a major thoroughfare in Manhattan
. This was a large, disruptive and illegal activity.
The deputy commissioner said Critical Mass rides have gotten out of control.
There was a time when the participants in these rides stopped for traffic lights, he said, adding, Its only a matter of time, if their conduct isnt restrained, that somebody is terribly injured. Weve tried to work with them, but theres this anarchist bent that says, We dont want to work with you, we dont want to respect the law, that makes it hard to work with them.
After the Oct. 29 ride, one participant, Molly Monosky, 26, from Chinatown listed resisting authority and stopping traffic as two reasons why she likes Critical Mass.
Weve had [Critical Mass] in New York for years without a problem, Browne said. Its only in the months leading up to the Republican National Convention that its become dangerous.
Browne said the Critical Mass rides have recently been hijacked by people with a different agenda. He gave as an example of a dangerous instance the July Critical Mass ride when bikers entered the F.D.R. Drive from the Battery Park underpass.
According to the injunction granted by Judge Pauley, police cannot seize locked bikes unless the owners are notified why or are arrested or the bikes are obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
One of the confiscated bikes, a Trek 1100, belongs to a man who goes by Tomas, a 63-year-old photographer and former East Village squatter.
I wasnt aware they were sawing the bikes. Terrible I really rely on my bike, he said shortly afterward. He recovered the bike at the Fifth Precinct four days later.
A man with an Eastern European accent answering the door at the Puck Building early Saturday morning said that, no, he had not called police about the bikes on the buildings fence, though police had come to talk to him about it.
On Monday, Larry Schwartz, the Puck Buildings catering manager, who wasnt at the building that night, said he didnt ask police to cut the bike locks and would know if someone else had.
I had nothing to do that with that and I dont think anybody knew anything about it, Schwartz said. We had no parties that night, so why would I tell police to do that? The bicycles are always on the fence, messengers
. Thats penny-ante [stuff]. I wouldnt do that.
The block of Houston St. was closed down by police except for a lane of traffic on the north side. Lingering on the perimeter after being moved off, some bikers accused the police of having a vendetta against Critical Mass.
Because theyre embarrassed they lost in court, they came here to provoke an incident, accused Jacques Aboaf, 24, an N.Y.U. anthropology student.
I feel like Im about to cry, said Sam Wilson, 25, wearing a long paper clown nose. I dont know how humans could act like that to other humans its painful to see.
These arent N.Y.U. frat boys these are peaceful hippies, said Andrew Kennis, 28, marveling at the forceful police response to the party.
According to Times Up!s Roth, one woman who had been filming the police action had her hand injured after police grabbed her and she refused to drop the camera.
Not long after the party was shut down, the loud sound of a power saw could be heard. A day after Judge Pauleys injunction against police cutting bike locks, Lieutenant Fanale was overseeing the sawing of locks of bikes on the Puck Buildings fence on Mulberry St., from which police reportedly confiscated three bikes; a Villager reporter arrived in time to see Fanale wheeling away the last of them. Times Up!s Di Paolo said some bikes locked on the Houston St. median were also taken.
Di Paolo said police created more of a confrontation on E. Houston St. last Friday night than was needed and that it was the lieutenant, not the bikers, who was doing the hitting; that the bikers were just trying to push the police out.
They went in the space without a warrant, he said. Their badges were not out. They were not dressed in police uniforms. It seemed when they went in, they went in so violently. Why not send in someone in uniform or [a supervising officer] in a white shirt? Why send in someone like that unless youre instigating something? She hit at least 15 people. We were pushing. They were hitting. They didnt ID themselves. They said nothing. They were just cursing.
Di Paolo who had been dancing in the blocked-off lane of the street when police arrived admitted, I guess I was a little cocky because of the injunction.
Yet, from the sound of it, Critical Mass may be willing to make one concession to stop running red lights.
According to the judge, the only thing were doing wrong is going through red lights, Di Paolo said. So we dont even have to do that.
Based on a regulation discovered during the court proceedings, Critical Mass believes the bikers can, in fact, leagally take up the whole street, and should not be held to the state vehicle and traffic law regulation saying bikers must ride two abreast when in the middle of the street, he said.
Although police gave a route to last Fridays riders, because the judge denied the citys request for an injunction without a permit, Di Paolo said they dont feel they need to follow a route.
Once the ride gets going, the group goes in different directions. I dont think it was malicious, he said of last weeks Critical Mass. People were just riding their bikes.
We just want the city to tell us what we have to do, Di Paolo said. Stopping at red lights, thats all we feel that [the city] has proved in court that we have to do.
However, in his ruling although he denied the citys request for an injunction stopping last Fridays ride Judge Pauley did suggest that, for safety, Critical Mass and the city should agree on a route for the ride each month. The bikers, Pauley said, cannot simply go wherever their wheels take them month after month without someone getting hurt. Bike rides of this size require coordination with the police for everyones safety.
Pauley has also said that the permit case belongs in state, not federal, court, as it concerns the states traffic laws.