Parking a bike can be a crime.
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Around 9 p.m. last Wednesday, Robert Carnevale got an emergency call from his girlfriend. Police had showed up on his block of East 6th Street, between 1st and 2nd avenues. They were cutting the locks off bicycles chained to street signs, Caroline Dorn told him.
Carnevale, who owns three bikes himself, raced back to find what’s become known as Operation Bike Raid in full swing. Sparks from the NYPD’s circular saws arced through the night. Police, some in plainclothes, were piling cycles by the dozen in a heap on the sidewalk. Carnevale says he ran up and down the street, buzzing all the doors to alert his neighbors. People who live nearby were trying to claim their bikes.
At first Carnevale took still pictures, then he switched the digital camera into video mode. He approached the plainclothes lieutenant who seemed to be in charge and asked for his name. Carnevale says the officer gave his name, but got annoyed when asked to spell it. “You got my name,” the officer says on the video. “I did you a favor. . . . Now I’m going to lock you up.”
And he did, sending Carnavale to the pokey for 22 hours on a charge of disorderly conduct. The cop also rang up Carole Vale, a nurse who happened by and asked for an explanation. Vale spent 13 hours in a cell, on the same count.
In addition to the two arrests, the NYPD collared about 15 bikes. Officers, some in plainclothes, loaded bikes into unmarked black vans. “Why is domestic spying being used on non-polluting transportation?” asked Time’s Up director Bill DiPaola at a press conference today.
City code does prohibit locking a bike to anything other than a city-approved rack, but there’s some dispute over whether that applies solely to abandoned bikes. The rusted carcasses of old cruisers, often picked cleaned of valuable parts, litter street signs and bike racks around the five boroughs.
Transportation Alternative reports that the East Village police precinct, the 9th, started trying to identify and tag abandoned bikes in 2005. Cyclists generally see getting rid of useless junkers as a positive, since it leaves more room for bikes in daily use. Not surprisingly, they take less kindly to having their bikes cut loose and removed with no advance notice or information afterward about how to get them back.
Civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, representing the East 6th Street riders at the press conference today, said the raid might have been prompted by a complaint from Community Board 3. He cited a court decision from September 2005, in which a judge ruled that the city had violated the due process rights of three cyclists by clipping their locks and hauling off the bikes with no warning. “The unlawful activity here is not by the cyclists, it’s by the cops,” Siegel said.