2006-02-26 Fewer Arrested in Mass Bike Ride – NY Times

After Judge’s Ruling, Fewer Are Arrested in Mass Bike Ride


Published: February 26, 2006

Jessica Rechtschaffer, who believes she holds — or at least shares — the unofficial record as the bicycle rider most often arrested at the monthly group rides known as Critical Mass, thought she might be adding to her total Friday night when police officers stopped her near 28th Street and Eighth Avenue.

For nearly two years, arrests on minor charges — as opposed to summonses — have been among the tactics the police have used to crack down on the ride, which takes place on the last Friday of the month and which the authorities say blocks traffic and creates public hazards.

But two weeks ago, a state judge, rejecting the city’s effort to quash the ride, advised the city and the riders to de-escalate their “rhetoric and conduct.” On Friday night, in the first ride since the ruling, three people were arrested, far fewer than the 20 to 40 arrested at the many of the rides in the last year.

Among those not arrested, for a change, was Ms. Rechtschaffer. “They gave me a summons for running the red light at 28th Street and Eighth Avenue,” she said. She has been arrested four times in the last two years, she said. Three of the cases were dropped, and she pleaded guilty in the other one.

A police spokeswoman said she did not know how many summonses were issued to riders Friday night, but said the charges against the three people arrested were disorderly conduct. The police apparently did not use a charge, parading without a permit, that judges have said was either unconstitutional or wrongly applied to the Critical Mass ride, said Gideon O. Oliver, a lawyer who has represented dozens of the riders.

Two riders serving as legal observers for the National Lawyers Guild were stopped by Assistant Chief Bruce H. Smolka and an aide. A videotape made by an observer shows that the riders, Adrienne Wheeler, 27, and Ethan Wolf, 26, rode the wrong direction up Broadway.

On the tape, Chief Smolka and his aide, who were not in police uniforms and did not appear to display badges, grabbed the riders as they crossed West 43rd Street. Ms. Wheeler fell to the pavement — after, she says, the chief grabbed the bike chain around her waist, though that moment was not captured on the tape.

Chief Smolka can be seen grasping the chain as she got up, and is heard saying they were riding the wrong way, before taking them to a police substation to be issued summonses.