April 30, 2005
At Least 18 Arrests Made in Tense Night of a Monthly Cycling Protest
By KAREEM FAHIM and JIM DWYER
Under tense circumstances, the monthly Critical Mass bicycle ride set out last night from multiple locations in Manhattan, in an attempt by the riders to thwart a police crackdown.
The police did not supply arrest numbers last night, but a lawyer who works with the riders, Julia Cohen, said at least 18 were detained.
Up to 400 people, many of them without bicycles, had gathered in Union Square Park before riders fanned out to locations around downtown Manhattan, including Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, and Madison Square Park in the Flatiron District.
In one of the first arrests of the evening, a young woman who was straddling her bike and walking it out of the south end of Union Square Park was seized and personally arrested by Assistant Police Chief Bruce H. Smolka Jr.
”You’re riding your bicycle on the sidewalk,” Chief Smolka said. ”You’re under arrest.”
The woman protested that she had done nothing wrong. The chief insisted that she get off her bicycle immediately, and then he tried to pull her off. The woman argued, and then other police officers, some of them wearing plainclothes, joined the chief and forcibly removed the woman from the bike.
Ride participants tried to retrieve the woman’s bike and scuffled with police officers, who then arrested a second woman.
The sight of a senior chief in the Police Department struggling in a crowded public place with the woman roused the gathering of people.
Cries of ”Let her go, let her go,” and ”fascist state” filled the air, as Chief Smolka and other officers led the woman into a van. A line of 10 motorcycles then sealed the edge of the sidewalk at the intersection of 14th Street and Union Square East. The arrested woman began to give her name in response to a question from a reporter, but only uttered one word — ”Lisa” — before she was pushed into the van and the reporter was forced away from her.
Chief Smolka is the police official in charge of southern Manhattan, and oversaw many of the mass arrests made in August before and during the Republican National Convention, including more than 100 arrests of bicyclists at a Critical Mass ride that swelled to include 5,000 riders.
Since then, the mass rides, which were conducted peacefully for several years before that, have become a point of contention with the Police Department.
Police officials have sought to require permits for the rides, which are intended to promote pollution-free transportation. They have filed for injunctions, first in federal court and more recently in state court. And they have warned that riders who run red lights, block intersections or otherwise break the law will be arrested.
In recent months, a cat-and-mouse game has developed, in which the riders try to outrun the police by starting from multiple locations, using cellphone text messages to spread the word. These efforts have been met by increasing shows of force with police officers deployed on foot and motorcycle, and in vans and helicopters. Last night, all of them were darting through the narrow confines of Lower Manhattan.
Soon after the ride began, a freelance reporter for The New York Times, Colin Moynihan, was standing on a sidewalk at Sixth Street and Avenue A interviewing people when he was briefly detained and handcuffed. He was later released by the police without charges.
Photos: Bruce H. Smolka Jr., an assistant police chief, arresting a cyclist in Union Square Park. A leader of the group called Time’s Up!, right, after arrest. (Photo by Antrim Caskey/The Inkdypendent); (Photo by Robert Stolarik for The New York Times)