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.
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: