February 17, 2006
John Davisson contributed to this article.
A state judge denied the city’s motion on Tuesday for an injunction to stop Critical Mass, an event in which thousands of bike riders take to the streets on the last Friday of every month.
Arguing that the ride deliberately obstructs traffic and poses a danger to both riders and motorists, the city has consistently tried to put a stop to Critical Mass. Police have frequently arrested and charged riders, but Tuesday’s ruling is the latest in a series of legal setbacks that the city has faced.
At a press conference Thursday, members of Time’s Up, a group that promotes cycling and a defendant in the city’s motion, celebrated the ruling by Supreme Court judge Michael D. Saltman.
Saltman refused to order Time’s Up to stop Critical Mass participants from riding without a permit, arguing that the city has not proven that Time’s Up actively organizes what the group describes as a self-led ride, and that “defendants’ First Amendment freedoms would be affected if an injunction were granted against them.”
“It is our hope that with a decision like this that the City will reconsider its vehement attack on Time’s Up,” said Steven Hyman, a member of the legal team that defended the organization.
“New Yorkers should be outraged with the way the police department has conducted itself over the past eighteen months,” said Normal Siegel, another member of the legal team.
But Brandon Neubauer, a member of Time’s Up, suggested that the ruling might not stop police from acting against riders. “I think it’s quite clear that the police do what they want, and what happens in the court is secondary,” he said.
The city’s crackdown on Critical Mass is widely believed to date to the Republican National Convention in August 2004. The court decision cited that 264 alleged Critical Mass participants were arrested in August 2004 before the convention.
Jamie Rollins, a first-year physics graduate student at Columbia, was arrested while participating in Critical Mass in January 2005. Along with seven other participants, he was charged with disorderly conduct and parading without a permit.
According to court documents, Rollins was captured on videotape in Union Square Park while police were broadcasting a message over loudspeakers saying “it is dangerous and illegal to ride a bicycle in a procession on the public streets within New York City if a permit has not been issued … if you ride in a procession this evening, you will be arrested and your bicycle will be seized.”
“There were probably more cops than there were riders,” Rollins said, “The ride started, and literally four blocks later the police swooped in and started arresting everyone they could.”
Rollins was found guilty of one count of disorderly conduct and fined $100, a ruling he is appealing. But the charge of parading without a permit against him and the other riders was thrown out, a development he described as a major victory.
“Nobody in the bicycle community understands why the police are coming down on Critical Mass like they are,” Rollins said.
Rollins said his motivation for participating in the ride despite the possibility of arrest was “feeling strongly about the need for alternative transportation.
“I personally think the city is overly deferential to cars,” he said, “The mass makes people feel safe about riding.”
Rollins describing Mayor Bloomberg’s attitude toward bikes as hypocritical. “At one minute he’ll say that Critical Mass riders are criminals, and then he’ll tell everyone to go ride their bikes to work,” Rollins said.
Rollins said that building political support would be necessary to stop what he described as the harassment of Critical Mass riders. “Somebody a lot more powerful than the New York City police is going to have to tell them to stop,” he said.