Cyclist speaks, countering officer’s spin on slam
September 17, 2008
By Jefferson Siegel
A firestorm of protest erupted after a disturbing incident during the July Critical Mass bike ride, when a police officer, seemingly unprovoked, tackled a cyclist right off of his bike. A damning video of the event cost the officer his badge and gun and, advocates say, cast a harsh spotlight on police accountability.
Near the end of the ride, cyclist Christopher Long, 29, was arrested by rookie Police Officer Patrick Pogan in Times Square. In a sworn statement, Pogan said Long had deliberately aimed his bike at him and caused Pogan to fall. Long was charged with attempted assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
As Long sat in jail for 27 hours, members of the environmental advocacy group Time’s Up! and the Glass Bead Video Collective tracked down a home video of the incident. The video contradicted the claims Pogan made in his arrest report. The tape showed Pogan walking toward Long and intentionally knocking him off his bike, while Pogan remained on his feet.
The videographers posted the 30-second tape on YouTube and within a day it was the lead story on local TV news and in newspapers. After seeing the tape, Mayor Bloomberg said of the officer’s actions, “It looked to me to be totally over the top.” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly echoed, “I have no understanding as to why that would happen.”
On Sept. 5, prosecutors dropped the charges against Long.
On Sept. 8, Long gave his first interview on the incident.
VILLAGER: First and foremost, how are you — physically, emotionally?
LONG: In the incident, we documented bruising and abrasions and things of that nature. I had an injury that was irritated by the incident, but I wasn’t really hurt all that much, fortunately.
Emotionally I’m O.K. Things are progressing. I’m happy that the charges are dropped, obviously. I’m really upset with the blatant police brutality, harassment, chilling of First Amendment rights and freedom of assembly. I’m also upset with the lies of the Police Department. They really feel confident to just lie in sworn statements. That’s extremely troubling. You have to ask: How many other police reports have been boldfaced lies? I’m certainly angry.
VILLAGER: What happened before Pogan hit you? According to his sworn statement, you were weaving in traffic, forcing multiple vehicles to stop abruptly or change their direction. Do you think he targeted you specifically?
LONG: There were really no motor vehicles in the street at that time. As I crossed 47th St. and proceeded down the avenue, I could see the police officers milling about in the street. He made eye contact with me and I could see that he was going to target me.
What was I doing? I was riding my bicycle, I was just going down the avenue, both hands on the handlebars. I think that he targeted me because I was one of the last riders and he was losing his opportunity to arrest somebody. It wasn’t anything personal. It wasn’t anything so premeditated, other than the 30 to 90 seconds of “I’m losing my opportunity; I’ve got to pick one.” He picked me.
VILLAGER: One witness on the ride said you were holding your arms high and laughing and cheering.
LONG: That was on Eighth Ave. That was long before I was in any eyesight of Pogan.
VILLAGER: You weren’t doing anything that would particularly call attention to you?
LONG: At that point, being in the back of the pack, they were getting away from me. I’m sure that I was trying to stay with the ride. I remember, specifically, having both hands on the bars.
VILLAGER: Did you say anything out loud?
VILLAGER: After he brought you down, he claims you said, “You are pawns in the game. I’m gonna have your job.”
LONG: When he was making the arrest, I told him, “You’re assaulting me, I’m gonna have your badge.” When they put me in the van and we were on the way to the precinct is when I told him that he’s a pawn in their game.
After he knocked me off the bike, he stood over me with his thumbs in his belt loop and he looked down at me and said, “Did you think you were going to go right through me? Do you wanna try that again?” I think it was pretty much random.
VILLAGER: How do you feel about the police now?
LONG: It’s not really personal. He [Pogan], unfortunately, is going to be a scapegoat in this situation because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If he had a little more insight and more wisdom, he wouldn’t have done what he did. I think that the department really helped him do what he did, because he felt safe to act that way. That’s the department, culturally. The department set him up for failure. He committed a crime, he assaulted me. He didn’t do that by himself.
VILLAGER: How did you feel when you learned there was a video exonerating you?
LONG: There’s nothing like seeing that video. That video is amazing and I have a lot of people to thank for their hard work in making sure that video made it to the public eye.
VILLAGER: Have you and your attorney had any discussions about pursuing any legal action against Officer Pogan, the Police Department or both?
LONG: We are going to sue, definitely.
(Long’s attorney, David Rankin, said he would be working with Jonathan Moore of the law firm Beldock, Levine & Hoffman on the lawsuit. “We haven’t filed anything yet but everything is pointing in that direction,” Rankin said. On Sept. 8, Rankin also learned that an unknown individual had filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board against Officer Pogan over the Long incident.)
VILLAGER: Do you think you’ll ever ride in Critical Mass in New York City again?
LONG: Oh yeah, oh yeah. As long as the police come out, we’ll be out. Until the police leave us alone, there’s definitely a reason to ride.
VILLAGER: Would you consider yourself a bicycle activist?
LONG: Things like bicycle activism only happen in New York City. We have 130,000 daily bicycle riders, and yet we still feel like we need bicycle activists? I think bicycles are inherently empowering because they’re inexpensive and they’re a reliable mode of transportation. I would consider myself someone who advocates the use of bicycles.