Critical Mass Rides West, More Problems with “Escort”

Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/20990388@N04/5132068050/in/set-72157625280016794/## Alex de Cordoba/Flickr##
Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/20990388@N04/5132068050/in/set-72157625280016794/## Alex de Cordoba/Flickr##

(editor’s note: Nope, I wasn’t there this month.  This is all second-hand reporting.  Alex de Cordoba did attend the mass and offers a report on the ride and thoughts on how it can move forward at The Engaged Observer. – DN)

Last Friday saw the fifth installment of the Los Angeles Critical Mass/ LAPD rides.  Back in May, after a violent clash between a group of officers and Mass riders in Hollywood, the police decided that if you can’t beat them, join them.  Ever since, the police have provided a rolling escort for the ride.

For many riders, that escort is becoming less welcome every month.

You would expect that a collaboration between riders representing a protest ride and the police would be bumpy; and perhaps expectations were raised too high after the amazing first LACM/LAPD ride in June; but reports from Friday’s ride aren’t encouraging that the relationship between cyclists and the LAPD are moving in the right direction.

Some of the rider complaints are normal ones for any group ride.  Some didn’t like the route, which snaked Northeast from the Wilshire/Western start point until it cut South to Venice before a long ride towards the ocean.  Others complained that the group in the front rode too far ahead of the rest of the 2,000 riders which led to confusion for much of the rest of the pack.  One cyclist who was not on the ride, but watched it from the Bikerowave, said it took over 20 minutes for the ride to pass.

But the majority of the complaints, and the most serious, were with the conduct of the police officers.  Especially those officers riding motorcycles.

At the time of publishing the official tally of tickets from the ride have not been announced, but even the police officers that use bicycling forums are encouraging riders to fight tickets in court.  Reportedly, LAPD officers on bicycles were encouraging riders to enter intersections against yellow lights to try and move as many bikes as possible.  However, once through the intersection, the same riders were being pulled over and ticketed by officers on motorcycle.

But what’s worse than the tickets is how riders were treated by officers.  From Midnight Ridazz,

One that pissed me off the most was two motorcycle cops tackling and smashing a riders face down on the pavement,talking shit to him and giving him a ticket.

Unnecessary force especially when the rider was just a fucking kid.

There are several issues now facing Critical Mass.

The first issue is that the ride has swollen and new tactics need to be employed to keep the ride somewhat together.  The LAPD will not “cork” (or allow riders to cork) an intersection without LACM receiving a parade license.  Because LACM has never had a planned route, getting a permit has been a non-starter for the community.  One suggestion is that the ride have several “meet” points, so if the ride gets split up, then everyone knows where to meet to get back together.

The next question is how does LACM respond to a police presence which seems to be growing more hostile with every passing month.  Unlike the other four LACM/LAPD rides, this one did not have Sgt. David Krumer, the Department’s go-to officer for working on bicycle issues, riding along.  However, Krumer notes that the motorcycle officers who were reportedly causing so many of the problems do not report to him so he might not have been able to help stem the confrontations as they were developing.  While he can discuss the matter with their commanding officers, he can’t just make these issues disappear.

Krumer encourages more riders to bring cameras to the ride to document any police abuses and encourage officers to be on their best behavior.  Back in the Midnight Ridazz thread, one rider claims that when the camera comes out, officers start behaving better while ticketing.  While Krumer argues that proves his point; other point out that it’s strange enough that riders have to police other riders.  Now they have to police the cops, too?

Another potential solution would be for the LAPD to scale back their commitment to the mass to just bicycle officers unless there is an incident which requires special attention.  Ever since the awkward collaboration between the two entities began five months ago, the conflicts between riders and police have rarely, if ever, involved a bicycle officer.

And perhaps that’s the lesson that Critical Mass teaches, that could show the LAPD the best way to support and police a large group ride.  There’s just something different about riding a bike in a large group of people in a city.  When one tries for themselves, they see the world in a new way.

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