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The monthly Critical Mass ride in Manhattan took a turn for the worse tonight when two scooter cops slammed into each other as they were trying to head off the flow of cyclists.
Less than 10 minutes after leaving Union Square, a pack of about 100 bikers was moving south on Third Avenue when a line of 14 scooter cops patrolling alongside abruptly veered left to cut off the ride.
One scooter cop slammed into another scooter, throwing the cop several feet from his scooter. He landed hard on the pavement, hitting his shoulder and head, as the scooter cop in back toppled over. A cyclist who identified himself an EMT stopped to assist the scooter cops, who were sprawled out on the street, before ambulances came to take them away on stretchers. (Photos from fredaskew.com.)
The two cops were treated for back and neck complaints at Bellevue Hospital, but a police spokesperson said the injuries were not believed to be serious.
“He was thrashing about in pain. His entire upper left torso was numb, which is a sign of deep impact,” said Luke Son of the first cop who flew off his scooter. A Columbia student and licensed EMT, Son volunteers as a bike mechanic for Times Up, an environmental group which promotes the mass ride as a demonstration against “car-culture.”
Cops on the scene were clearly pissed. “He landed straight on his head,” said one scooter cop who asked not to be identified. “It’s not fun and games any more.”
Four bikers were arrested at the scene and their bikes carted away in a police truck, along with three police scooters that were disabled in the collision.
“We made a move to head off the bicyclists and the group bolted through the line of scooters, causing the accident. That’s the bottom line,” the scooter cop explained. “The bikes were caught in the middle of it. Some got knocked over, and the rest are being chased down as we speak.”
But several cyclists who rushed onto the sidewalk to avoid arrest said the cops had simply run into each other and said no riders were struck.
The bicyclists said it was the cops who behaved recklessly. “They veered into the uptown traffic lane and then accelerated to cut in front of the group,” said Son, who was riding in front of the pack when the accident occurred.
Eight more cyclists were arrested minutes later at 13th Street and Broadway. While some bikers were disturbed by the collision and gave up on the ride, others scattered, tracked by a police copter hovering overhead. Using cell phones, about 40 regrouped on 23rd Street and headed toward Midtown.
That’s where cyclists said things got ugly. Riders reported being chased at high speeds down narrow streets, or cornered by cops in SUVs who would stop suddenly and throw open their car doors to try and blockade the cyclists.
Aaron Grogan, a 22-year-old computer science student at Fordham University, reported being chased by police in a black SUV on 43rd Street off Fifth Avenue: “All of a sudden, the SUV started gunning its engine and forcing its way through the mass of bikers. It was very dangerous. If we hadn’t pulled off to the side, it would have rammed us.”
When they reached Broadway, Grogan said, he and the remaining 10 or so riders decided to quit the Mass and head back downtown. According to Grogan, they were riding south in the bike lane when a squad car swerved into the lane and the cop on the passenger side threw open his door, dooring one cyclist as he yanked another rider off his bike.
“It was completely unsafe, it was unbelievably reckless,” said Bridget Kennedy, a 27-year-old Columbia University law student who was among some 15 volunteer legal observers posted to observe arrests.
A few blocks up at 45th Street in Times Square, another four riders who had peeled off from the ride were swept up, including one couple who was riding a welded side-by-side.
All told, 14 cyclists were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for blocking traffic and parading without a permit. One rider was also charged with assault when, witnesses say, he was yanked off his bike while it was still moving and his bicycle struck another officer.
Police officials were not available to comment on their enforcement of the ride.
But cyclists and supporters on hand to witness the event were both upset by the police injuries and shocked by the cops’ aggressive tactics, which they insist are unnecessary. “Every trial we’ve done, the scooter cops testify that they do this maneuver where they cut people off, and it’s dangerous,” said Gideon Oliver, a defense lawyer who has represented many of the roughly 700 cyclists who have been arrested since the police began cracking down on Critical Mass in 2004. “We’ve been saying somebody is going to get hurt. I’m really upset. There’s no reason these officers should have been doing what they were doing.”
Joe Pinto, a cab driver who was parked on the side of the road at the time of the scooter incident, had a different perspective: “The bikes were moving pretty aggressively when the cops moved to cut them off, and the cops weren’t stopping either. It was just a cluster fuck.
“I’ve been caught in traffic jams and lost money because of these bike guys,” Pinto added. “I feed my family from this, so I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them. My brother’s a cop.”
Editor’s Note: It was 14, not 17, cyclists that were arrested.