Police Sawed Through Locks and Seized Bikes, Riders Say
The New York Times
September 26, 2004
By COLIN MOYNIHAN
Although about 1,000 bicyclists on a mass ride moved peacefully through Manhattan on Friday night with just a small number of arrests, riders complained yesterday that the police had seized about 40 bicycles at one location after sawing through locks securing them to sign posts and light poles.
Many of the bicycles had been locked on East 36th Street, near Fifth Avenue, by cyclists who said they became worried when the police arrested a few ride participants. But others may have belonged to people who had nothing to do with the ride, they said.
The monthly ride, called Critical Mass, has been held in New York for the last several years to promote nonpolluting transportation. This was the first since more than 200 riders were arrested last month. That ride was billed as a protest against the Republican National Convention and drew thousands of cyclists.
Yesterday, the police said the bicycles seized on Friday night had been abandoned. The bicyclists disagreed, saying the fact that the bikes had been locked meant they had not been abandoned.
“There appears to be no legal predicate for seizing the bicycles,” said Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer who assisted bicyclists arrested during the convention. “Consequently, the police appear to have engaged in unlawful activity.”
Mr. Siegel added that it might be necessary to get a court order to prevent the police from taking locked bicycles in the future.
When the riders gathered at Union Square on Friday night, police officers handed out fliers saying that those who broke traffic laws would be subject to arrest and the seizure of their bicycles. But the fliers said nothing about the possibility that locked bicycles might be seized.
The ride began congenially. Officers blocking cars waved the mass through red lights and were thanked by some cyclists. The riders paused twice on Park Avenue to allow ambulances to pass.
But confusion started at Broadway and 33rd Street when many riders thought they were being blocked by the police and fled east on 36th Street.
The police stopped riders at Fifth Avenue and arrested eight people on charges of disorderly conduct. Many riders locked their bicycles and dispersed on foot, only to find when they returned that their bicycles were being seized. Some said that they were able to retrieve their bikes yesterday at the Seventh Precinct station house at Delancey and Pitt Streets.
Bill DiPaola, the executive director of Times Up!, an environmental group that promotes the ride, said the police had acted in good faith most of the night until the seizures.
“The cycling community is very upset over what they consider theft of the bicycles,” he said. “We are hoping this is not a new policy.”