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Arrests of Critical Mass

Police find new target: bicyclists

By Deirdre Griswold
New York

New York City police have again used mass arrests to break up a ride of bicyclists. On Oct. 29, they arrested 33 people taking part in the monthly Critical Mass bike ride, which promotes environmentally friendly forms of transportation.

More than 1,000 bicyclists were on the ride, many dressed in Halloween costumes. They had started out at Union Square and headed north on Park Avenue. Police turned out in force.

The city had gone to court trying to stop the ride, but just the day before the mass arrests, a federal judge ruled that the Critical Mass event did not need a permit and that the city could not seize bicycles unless riders were charged with a crime or violated the law. This didn't stop the police.

Matthew Roth, an organizer and one of those arrested, said riders were targeted from the start.

"There was an air of intimidation," he told Newsday. "There was a van projecting a recorded voice saying that riders must follow a certain route and if they deviated, they would be arrested."

The cyclists have been a target of police attack before. Some 264 Critical Mass bicyclists were arrested in August just days before huge demonstrations against the Republican National Con ven tion. A number were brutally beaten. The arrests were seen as an attempt by police and city authorities, including billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to create an atmosphere of intimidation and fear before the protests.

Critical Mass, which describes itself as an "event" rather than an organization, inspires bike tours on the last Friday of each month in 250 cities across the globe.

In San Francisco, Critical Mass cyclists showed up Oct. 29 to support locked-out hotel workers.

KCBS reported that the riders chose a route that took them to several hotels affected by the lockout. "'It makes me feel great. I'm loving it. It's encouraging,' said one locked-out union worker. Richard McLean used to work as a bartender at the Hilton. He watched as bikes did to cars what strikers sometimes did to guests. 'They're stopping traffic.'"

In another example of outrageous police behavior, facilitated by beefed-up repression allowed under the "Patriot Act," Boston cops recently fatally wounded a young woman celebrating the Red Sox victory over the Yankees. She was struck in the eye with a pepper-gas pellet during "crowd control."

In a time of unpopular war, drastic climate change and growing economic problems and uncertainty for millions of workers, it is not surprising that the police see gatherings of young people as threatening to "order." It is their job to protect a capitalist order that is increasingly destructive, degrading, oppressive and hated. The more they do their odious job, the more they antagonize the youth and propel them into struggle to uproot the system.

Reprinted from the Nov. 11, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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