Seattle Critical Mass Assault a Flashpoint in Bike v Car Culture

Riders from This May's Seattle Critical Mass

Last Friday, during Seattle's Critical Mass ride, a Subaru station wagon ran over some cyclists.  The reasons for the incident are up for debate as cyclists claim the driver acted irrationally and plowed into the cyclists without provocation.  The driver claims that cyclists were attacking his car and while attempting to scare them off accidentally backed over a pair of them. 

While the crash itself is bad enough, the reaction of the police and the media is even worse.  When an officer arrived on the scene, he conducted interviews and immediately accepted the driver's story as fact.  This report has led to an echo chamber effect that has the local media and police united in blaming the Critical Mass riders for the incident.  Consider these two stories in the Seattle Times, which gives the official version of the story, as reported by a police officer who wasn't present when the incident occurred, under the clearly unbiased title of "Critical Mass riders injure driver in Capitol Hill altercation."

According to Jamieson, as the Critical Mass group moved down the street, blocking traffic, some riders got in the way of the Subaru and prevented it from leaving. Some bikers sat on the car and were banging on it, he said.

"The driver was pretty fearful that he was about to be assaulted by the bicyclists," Jamieson said.

The man tried to back up, but bumped into a biker. "This enraged the group," Jamieson said.

Several of the bikers bashed up the Subaru, shattering the windshield and rear window, Jamieson said.

The driver tried to drive away, but hit another bicyclist, Jamieson said. Still, he drove about a block, to the corner of Aloha and 15th Avenue East, before the Critical Mass riders cornered the car again and started spitting on it and banging against it.

One bicyclist punched the driver through his open window, and another used a knife to slash the Subaru's tires, Jamieson said.

Wow, sounds pretty terrifying.  Imagine being trapped in a car when a large group of cyclists attack your car for no apparent reason.  Of course, there is another side of the story.  Unfortunately, the Seattle Times waited for the bottom of their third story on the incident to print a detailed version of the cyclists version of the crash.

But Braun, the injured attorney, said it was Mark whom he saw acting "aggressive and belligerent" when Braun, who had been riding at the back of the Critical Mass pack, crested a hill on Aloha Street.

The Subaru was parked perpendicular to the street, and was backed over a sidewalk and someone's front lawn, said Braun, 36. He stopped and stood straddling his bike to watch as the cyclists tried to calm the driver.

"He was screaming the whole time and yelled something about being late for a [dinner] reservation — and he floors it, he literally floors it into a bunch of people and I took the brunt of it," he said.

A woman was also hit but jumped free, he said, and a man jumped onto the hood of the car to avoid being hit. But Braun — and his bike — got pulled beneath the vehicle.

"I was trying to hold onto the front and the bumper. I was pinned under the car, struggling for my life," he said. When Mark made a sharp left, a tire ran over Braun's right leg, but somehow, he managed to roll free of the car.

He didn't see what happened next.

These stories are representative of the coverage of the incident.  The Stranger, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, KOMO News, and The News Tribune all wrote stories blaming the cyclists for the incident. 

We'll probably never know the entire story, only the Critical Mass cyclists who witnessed the incident and the driver know what really happened.  However, the Seattle PD and press' reaction provides a perfect illustration of the bias that still exists in many media outlets to blame the cyclist first. 

In the Seattle P-I article above, the Seattle PD's spokesperson admits that Critical Mass has gone on for a long time in Seattle with no major incidents, yet the first time there is one the establishment is unanimous in blaming the cyclists based soley on the word of the people who would be charged if the cyclists version were believed.

One wonders what the reaction to the Mandeville Canyon crash would have been if the story had been broken by the mainstream press instead of the bike-friendly LAist. 

Photo: The Corey/Flickr