At least 264 riders charged with blocking streets
COPS BUST BIKE PROTEST
New York Daily News
BY DEREK ROSE, PETE DONOHUE AND MAKI BECKER DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS WITH DAVID EPSTEIN, CELESTE KATZ, GREG B. SMITH, MICHAEL SAUL AND KERRY BURKE
Saturday, August 28, 2004
MANHATTAN WAS SPIN city last night as 5,000 activists on bicycles swarmed city streets and snarled traffic during a protest of the upcoming Republican National Convention.
At least 264 riders were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct for blocking intersections near Madison Square Garden and in the East Village, police said.
The arrests marked the first real confrontation between cops and the thousands of protesters who have descended on New York ahead of the convention, which starts Monday.
“The cops said, ‘Get out of here!’ and I was trying to get out and I was cuffed,” complained one busted bicyclist who identified himself as Keith from Brooklyn.
At first, police seemed willing to allow the protesters to have the run of the road as they zigzagged up and down Manhattan from Union Square.
But as the cyclists blocked the intersection of W. 34th St. and Seventh Ave. at the Garden, police began arresting demonstrators.
Many more were collared later at Second Ave. around E. 10th St., near St. Marks Church, which was hosting an after-party for the bicyclists.
“The cops are coming! Move out!” bicyclists screamed to each other as they made their way down Second Ave., hurling their bikes over the church fence in a desperate bid for sanctuary.
“They just all came to a stop,” said Reggie Lakew, 28, a gift coordinator from Roosevelt Island, who saw the cyclists as they approached E. 10th St. “Everyone picked up their bikes over their heads and started cheering. Some sat down in the street. The cops surrounded them in a line and they were picking them off from the back and arresting them.”
Some witnesses said the arrests in the Village began when someone tossed some spaghetti at a cop.
“This whole thing is about peace,” said one cuffed and disgruntled biker who identified himself as Jesse from Brooklyn. “I don’t have a gripe with the police. I have a gripe with the RNC, although the cops were pretty rough.”
Cops slapped plastic cuffs on the protesters’ wrists while other officers snapped Polaroid photos of the detainees in what appeared to be bid to head off allegations of police brutality.
Two busloads of protesters were taken from the scene to a temporary jail on the West Side Highway while a flatbed truck was piled high with their confiscated bikes.
“They’re trying to set the tone for the next week,” suggested Annette Wilcox, 47, as she watched the protesters being hauled off. “If you sneeze the wrong way, they’re going to arrest you.”
A crowd three blocks deep gathered around the protesters last night, chanting, “Let them go!” as a helicopter hovered overhead.
But police said they had warned the riders for weeks they would be arrested if they blocked traffic.
“They were blocking intersections all along the way, backing up traffic,” said top NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. “I personally witnessed several ambulances that couldn’t get through. They had their lights and sirens on.”
The ride, organized by an environmental group called Time’s Up and dubbed “Critical Mass,” is held in the city on the last Friday of every month but never near the scale of last night.
Thousands more protesters will take to the streets today. One group – denied its bid to rally in Central Park – is still planning to converge there today. Leaders of the ANSWER coalition have been passing out flyers informing protesters of their right to congregate in the park.
About 10,000 abortion-rights activists are expected to cross the Brooklyn Bridge in the 11 a.m. March for Women’s Lives, which has a permit from the city.
Earlier yesterday, parks workers discovered the Van Cortlandt Golf Course in the Bronx, where a few GOP delegates were to play yesterday, had been vandalized with anti-Bush messages. “Extensive damage” was done to holes 15 through 18 and slogans were spray-painted on the grass, parks officials said. Repairs will cost $6,000.