Bicyclists Give Gift To A Chief Who Gave Them Hell
February 28, 2007
By Jefferson Siegel
For two and a half years, police have chased cyclists in the monthly Critical Mass rides. Last Friday, participants turned the tables, leaving the traditional Union Square starting point on foot and marching directly to the nearest police precinct. Riders were celebrating the news that Assistant Chief Bruce Smolka, commander of Patrol Borough Manhattan South, announced his retirement a week earlier.
Cyclists viewed Smolka as the force behind the arrests of Critical Mass riders. His departure inspired many to dub last Friday’s ride “Smolka’s retirement party.”
Several hundred cyclists and many people without bikes walked out of Union Square, passing by Pete’s Tavern on Irving Pl. and the Brotherhood Synagogue on Gramercy Park S. The procession, led by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a brass marching band, was followed by police on motor scooters and in vans.
Arriving at the 13th Precinct on E. 21st St., cycling activists Rachael Myers and Christopher Ryan walked a blue-painted bike to the precinct’s front door. The bike was dubbed the “Smolka Cruiser” and adorned with the words “N.Y.P.D. Retired.” A police commander refused to accept the gift on behalf of Smolka and advised the pair not to leave it, since it would be considered abandoned property.
The Critical Mass cyclists then began walking down Second Ave., followed by a large police presence. At 18th St., a police commander advised the crowd to disperse or face arrest for disorderly conduct. Police then stopped two cyclists and issued them summonses for having bikes without front lights.
As Katie from Bedford-Stuyvesant stood waiting for her ticket, she questioned a police commander about being stopped.
“It’s not us against you,” the officer replied, explaining that she had violated a law requiring a front light.
“There’s a gazillion things going on in the city right now, where he could be ‘just doing his job,’” Katie said after receiving her ticket. “But they’re choosing to target us.”
Friday’s ride was the last in Manhattan before new parade rules go into effect. At next month’s ride, which is being referred to by the cyclists as “Criminal Mass,” police will have the authority to arrest anyone in a group of 50 or more that has not first obtained a permit for the event.