LA Bicycle Advisory Committee Convenes with LAPD as Tensions Run High

The revolution would not be televised — or so we thought. Hushed by the darkened room, more than 50 bicyclists, police officers, members of the media, and community leaders turned toward the projector to watch a film clip that everyone had just confirmed, by a show of hands, that they had already seen.

4662318775_20cef7ea57.jpgAn overflow crowd Tuesday evening at Hollywood Neighborhood City Hall. (Photo: C. Rubin via Flickr)

The screen flickered on to refresh everyone’s memory of the 91 seconds of shaky violence; when the lights came back on, a tense murmur rippled through the audience.

With Bicycle Advisory Committee Chair Glenn Bailey presiding, the floor was opened to public comment. One by one, dozens of speakers voiced their disgust, frustration, exasperation, and dismay with police officers’ unquestionably excessive use of force that night. "How many car drivers get thrown to the ground by police after a routine traffic violation?" several attendees asked rhetorically.

Among the LAPD representatives in attendance, contrition was the theme of the evening, with several officers expressing sincere regret for the actions of a handful of their coworkers last Friday. Indeed, even Chief of Police Charlie Beck showed up to say that he too was "concerned about these incidents" and that the department "has taken immediate action based on information from this community."

Beck assured those assembled that the "officers involved have been removed from the field and will remain removed until we get to the bottom of this."

In the meantime, Chief Beck asked for patience to allow for the internal review process to be completed by the department’s inspector general. Deputy Chief Debra McCarthy elaborated that the length of the investigation would depend on the number of police officers involved, how many witnesses had to be interviewed, and the amount of evidence that had to be reviewed. It could take "two, three … 10 months," she suggested. The final decision could ultimately make its way to Chief Beck’s desk.

As the public comment period continued, Ramon Martinez of LA County Bicycle Coalition implored the LAPD not only to improve relations with bicyclists on law enforcement issues, but also "to take a stand, take it to the mayor and take it to the LADOT that bicyclists need infrastructure now."

Another commenter, Don Ward, suggested to the LAPD that, "if you don’t like group rides, let’s work to normalize cycling … Help us by supporting us in the streets, by taking incident reports when accident happens. Protect us, and you’ll see the group rides melt away."

If group rides are a tool of social change, he seemed to suggest, help us change the transportation landscape in Los Angeles so that we can start to put that tool away.

One of the most poignant moments of the evening came when a high school student read a letter on behalf of his fifteen-year-old classmate who had been detained by police on Friday. The friend wrote that a cop had abruptly grabbed his handlebars, told him to get off his bike and then handcuffed him on the ground. After being held for 40 minutes, the young man was told that he was being cited for not having a headlight and for not having identification, even though he had shown his student ID and was not old enough to obtain a drivers license.

After being released, the 15-year-old was left in the middle of Hollywood with no ride home and a bike that police had deemed not to be street legal.

He was not the only one whom the LAPD failed to protect and serve. One woman who rode with Critical Mass on Saturday Friday night described getting separated from the main group, only to see "cops swerve in front of [fellow riders], jump out and throw them to the ground buy their handle bars," without even a command to stop.

"We were terrified!" she said, adding, "I don’t want to be terrified by the police."

Most who showed up Tuesday night acknowledged that relations between the bicycling community and the LAPD had been improving before this piercing turn of events. It remains to be seen how much of a setback this incident will be. A speedy and transparent internal investigation by the LAPD would go a long way towards ensuring that relations between cyclists and the department do not deteriorate further.

Focusing on the big picture, Chairman Bailey used his closing comments to urge everyone not to lose sight of the most important battle: "You need to contact your City Council Member and the Mayor. They’re the ones that can tell the Department of Transportation to get things done."

Bike lanes, education campaigns, sharrows, bike boulevards, traffic calming, curb cuts, safe routs to school, bike racks, hit-and-run enforcement. When the city is made safe for bicyclists, monthly groups rides Critical Mass might hardly raise an eyebrow, let alone a baton.

For local TV coverage, here are a few links:

KABC7: Cyclists enraged over alleged LAPD attack

CBS2: LAPD Looks Into Question of Force In Bike Protest

KTLA: LAPD Investigates Scuffle with Bicyclists Captured on Video

  • Nice summary, but towards the middle of the article you refer to Critical Mass as being ridden on Saturday night. It was on Friday night.

  • Carter Rubin

    Thanks & fixed!

  • One other thing that the high-school student said stood out to me. He claimed that while he was being detained on Hollywood Boulevard, a cop accused him of participating in “gang activity”.

  • MrSharkey

    Par for the course. Cops don’t care. We cyclists are a nuisance to them not only as cops but as drivers. The cops’ attitude reflect an overall lack of regard for cyclists in general. I am presently involved in a lawsuit because a big rig trucker failed to provide sufficient distance from me as he passsed in excess of 50mph. He was within 12 inches of my shoulder to “teach me a lesson”. I got tangled up in his rig and thrown to the side of the road. Could have likely died. (Check the case in Santa Barbara about a young woman who was pulled under the wheels of a rig – check link below). My bike was destroyed and I was left with serious injuries. His comment was that I was an a$$hole for being on the road and that cyclists act like we own the road.

    If we can educate the drivers that we are sons and daughters and not targets… we MIGHT have a chance

    http://forums.teamestrogen.com/showthread.php?t=4867

  • MrSharkey

    Par for the course. Cops don’t care. We cyclists are a nuisance to them not only as cops but as drivers. The cops’ attitude reflect an overall lack of regard for cyclists in general. I am presently involved in a lawsuit because a big rig trucker failed to provide sufficient distance from me as he passsed in excess of 50mph. He was within 12 inches of my shoulder to “teach me a lesson”. I got tangled up in his rig and thrown to the side of the road. Could have likely died. (Check the case in Santa Barbara about a young woman who was pulled under the wheels of a rig – check link below). My bike was destroyed and I was left with serious injuries. His comment was that I was an a$$hole for being on the road and that cyclists act like we own the road.

    If we can educate the drivers that we are sons and daughters and not targets… we MIGHT have a chance

    http://forums.teamestrogen.com/showthread.php?t=4867

  • Erik G.

    The Hollywood Bicycle Cop who did the kicking last Friday, it wasn’t this guy, was it?:

    http://discarted.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/lapd-unlawfully-detains-photographer/

    (Note shoulder patch with Bicycle Police logo)

  • skd

    Leo was the 15 year-old who read the account of his friend and classmate Ryan, who was detained and cited on the ride. Neither of these young men drink, smoke or do drugs nor do they engage in “gang activity”. They both like to ride their bicycles. Now if that is considered a criminal act, than we really have a screwed up society. Shouldn’t we be encouraging young people like Ryan and Leo to ride bicycles. To get their adrenaline rush from physical and environmentally-friendly activities. Ryan and Leo are heroes to many of us bicyclists, because they gave us a glimpse into the next generation. If they are the hope for the future, that future includes bicycles. Riding a bicycle is not a criminal act. Let’s get this guy a bike light and encourage both these young men to continue to ride.

  • Edward

    # 1 I sincerely doubt that cops grabbed these cyclists by the handlebars and whipped them to the ground! I have never seen that and I’ve been on hundreds of rides. This kind of embellishment is exactly why people don’t believe the idiot stories like that. No this idiot cop who kicked the pedal of the cyclist, is a different story, he didn’t grab the rider by the handle bars and toss him to the ground. Quit embellishing or our cause will never be taken seriously. The streets are more than dangerous for us and this incident with the LAPD Hollywood division cop gives us an opportunity to have the LAPD and the city take us serious. Don’t waste it by lying! I have been hit by cars 12 times in this city and almost killed far more, so I don’t need to embellish to get my point across. Lets do the right thing here, and make some headway.

  • Are group rides really just a tool to make a political statement? Looks to me like people are having a lot of fun too (not that we can’t mix fun and politics). But when I lived in Portland, I never heard about group rides besides Critical Mass and the Zoobombers. Now when I go back to visit they got all kinds of group rides going on, even though they’re way ahead of us in terms of infrastructure and political support for cycling. I assumed that the popularity of Midnight Ridazz had something to do with that.

  • Alek F

    Guys, I agree with most comments, and I agree that LAPD need to be more “bike-friendly”. But… let’s not be so biased here. Looking at the other part of the equation, many cyclists disregard other people’s safety, as well!

    I’ve personally had many near-misses (while walking on the sidewalk) because a cyclist was riding on the sidewalk like a maniac, or because a cyclist ran a red light; you’d have to agree, most cyclists DO NOT obey traffic rules (even though they have have to obey the same laws as motorists do). So… bicyclists are also to blame, to be honest.

    I’m an avid cyclist myself, and I would suggest to ride defensively and obey traffic laws, especially red lights and stop signs. I’ve personally seen “critical mass” rides, and – oh, boy… they do ride arrogantly with total disregard for any kind of road laws… So, while in the instant case LAPD did act inappropriately, I can totally see WHY they are so full of hatred to the cyclists. Both LAPD and cyclists need mutual respect.

    Oh, and one more thing: when you ride on the road, please get a rear-view mirror, it helps tremendously. @ MrSharkey – I’m really sorry you had a “close encounter” with a rig (and I hope you win the lawsuit), but… while on the road – if you’d have a rear-view mirror, you would be able to maneuver to the right (or get on a sidewalk) to avoid the rig driving 12 inches away from you. Remember, folks – we are cyclists, and even though we do have the same rights as cars (and trucks) – in reality we are least respected. That’s why – it’s better to be safe than sorry; by having a rear-view mirror, we will see ahead of time that huge vehicle approaching, and get out of his way. Those are my thoughts.

    Good luck to us all!! ;-)

  • ARealRider

    I had a friend in town from San Fran this week. He rides his bike for transportation up north but happened to be in his car this weekend to visit LA. He stopped at an intersection for the critical ASS I mean mass demonstration and was cheering them on until they started to cuss at him because he was in a car. Way to go guys! How bout this shut the F up and ride your bikes little bitches.

  • RJ

    I’ve seen one of these group bike rides in action and it looks like some of the young guys use it as a opportunity to act like punks in public. In fact they rode by my church and shouted out anti religous comments. Their highly offensive behavior had nothing to do with the ride they just used it as an opportunity act out.
    What does this have to do with bike riding?
    Whoever organizes these group rides should get each and every participant to sign an agreement to follow the laws and act decently and there should be monitors to kick out the offenders.

  • @RJ – does “shouting anti-religious comments” warrant police brutality? I don’t condone shouting anti-religious comments, but you seem to justifying police use of unecessary force in response to constitutionally-protected free speech.

    I know that sometimes bicyclists (and drivers and pedestrians) do things that are not legal. When this occurs, police should issue them tickets. This should be done in a manner that’s civil and professional. Police shouldn’t (in your words) “kick out the offenders” – they should just pull them over and cite them. That’s unreasonable, unjustifiable behavior.

  • MrSharkey

    To: Alek F

    #1 the shoulder was too narrow for me to move further to the right.
    #2 It appears the trucker “buzzed” me on purpose to teach me a lesson to which
    #3 a rear view mirror would not have helped
    #4 as cyclists we have every right to use the road as the motor vehicles do. I could have been in the middle of the lane and the trucker would have had to yield.
    #5 Check the Calif Vehicle Code for “unsafe passing”
    #6 check common law for negligent behavior.

  • K. Hollman

    Chief Beck,
    Instead of removing the officers involved in the cycling incident from the field, why not assign them to bicycle duty for the next 6 months in downtown Los Angeles? I think they will gain a greater understanding of cyclists if they attempt law enforcement from a bicycle rather than an automobile.

    Sincerely,
    K. Hollman

  • Edward

    BRAVO Alex F! You have it 100% correct, anyone who disagrees with you is not being intellectually honest, and is not worthy of being involved in the discussion. The the contrary, they’re part of the problem. The guy in the street yelling obscenities is a complete and utter thug, and he was in fact in direct violation of the law, not because of his picture taking, but because he was standing in the middle of a public street while impeding traffic, while causing a safety hazard. This idiot should have gotten up onto the sidewalk and stood, while filming. But he didn’t because he’s an antagonist. We as cyclists need to bare some of the responsibility when malcontents like this guy act like savages. We cannot make all these demands of the police, which in most cases are very warranted, then fail to take responsibility for the idiots among us. When we do, we loose all credibility and the momentum shifts back to the majority car drivers. Police your own riders and act civil if we want the police to treat us like civil adults. And PAAAAALEEEEEASE this cop was a moron for kicking the rider, but what kind of complete wimp calls that police brutality or gross excessive force? C’mon, the guy was riding at 5 mph, and barely even flinched at the pedal kick by this ONE moron officer. The cops are just trying to do their jobs most of the time and don’t deserve the constant bashing. There are a lot of good cops out there, and I would say that’s the majority! So lets get it right and not be so argumentative during these encounters or all these meetings that we’ve been afforded. Don’t waste our chance here!