On the 10th of September, several DC cops assigned to or othewise escorting the monthly Bike Party drive their cars in ways that made some of the riders feel they were being put as risk for a collision. They muscled their cars directly into the packs of riders, followed riders ahead of them too closely, and as a result had to make sudden stops that put riders behind them at risk of ramming the police cruisers if they could not stop quickly.
The most dangerous conditions occurred on two lane roads, where police cars were able to block the entire lane going the direction of the ride. On wider roads the intrusion of the police cars was less dangerous because there was more room to get around them when they stopped too quickly, and may not have followed riders as closely when they were less densely packed. As usual there were over 600 riders in the Bike Party, I do not know if this was just cops unused to driving in such close proximity to cyclists or an organized plan to harass the rides so as to reduce turnout.
There were also strong efforts by these same police to break up the large packs of riders when traffic lights changed. The lead elements of these rides only cross intersections on green, but the length of the ride often causes lights to change before all riders can pass. Serious police aggression such as the throwing open of doors or attempts to tackle riders did not occur, either not being intended in the first place or just because police were outnumbered nearly 100-1. Still, the moves by police near traffic lights reminded me of police aggression at intersections during the Oct 2002 IMF Critical Mass ride that later ended up at Pershing Park.
As this aggression angered riders some began to respond by pushing through the intersections, neutralizing some of the police efforts to divide the ride up at intersections with changing lights. As the ride continued the police cruisers found themselves at the very end of the ride shortly before 9PM, out of most rider’s hair. I do not know if this situation later escalated because I had to break off to cover the antiwar protest that met Obama’s Iraq speech at 9PM the same nght.
If even one bicyclist is injured as a result of careless or aggressive driving by police, the city could face significant legal judgements in court. If the police insist on trying to control the Bike Parties, they should at least learn to drive their cars in a way that does not create a risk of dangerous car-bike collisions
Years ago, in 2002 and into 2003 under former Mayor Williams and former police chief Ramsey there was an ugly string of police confrontations with the politicized Critical Mass rides of that era, I will explain that history below:
In both the Spring and Fall 2002 IMF special Critical Mass rides, the police objective was to arrest all riders and in both cases they failed utterly. The Spring 2002 IMF ride had about 220 riders, a little more than a third the size of a Bike Party but far more aggressive. It took police over 2 hours just to maneuver into position for an attempt at a mass arrest. The whole front line charged into the police line of bike cops, breaking up their formation and leading to the escape of all but 37 riders. When former Chief Ramsey tried to hold those bikes as “evidence,” but quickly changed his mind after threats that 37 “yuppie bikes” would be stolen as replacements.
Close police escort of the July 2002 Critical Mass was followed by an all-out attack on the August 2002 ride, that again netted only a few riders out of an attempt to arrest every rider. First police showed up at the Dupont Circle assembly point threatening to arrest any group ride. A fake dispersal was followed by a covert reassembly at another location. The police resorted to a helicopter to find the ride, and in a fury staged another mass arrest attempt. This time they got only TWO riders, I still remember having to use the taller buildings in the GWU area as oblique cover to dodge that helicopter while I made my way to a bridge into Virigina, where I stayed until that chopper landed. Adam Eidinger reported at the time that cop claimed a complaint from the Mayor was the cause of this operation
For the Fall 2002 “People’s Strike” Critical Mass Ramsey considered but discarded a plan to attempt to sieze all unregistered bikes at the Union Station assembly point, a conspiracy that was cited by the DC City Council when they abolished mandatory bicycle registration a few years later.
At the start of the Iraq War in 2003, there were Critical Mass bike rides twice a week. One of them was attacked by 340 motorcycle cops, then NO cops as the next ride after threats to block the Potomac River bridges were made. When police harassment, often citing bicycle registration as an excuse returned, former Councilmember Kathleen Patterson threatend to ride with us, and the harassment ended until September 10, 2014, the event covered above. Is MPD going back to their circa 2002 ways? If so, DC had better break out the checkbook for another round of judgements!