City settles with Critical Mass riders but police continue to deny harassment claim

83 cyclists arrested during Critical Mass demonstrations in New York are to be paid compensation totalling almost one million dollars by the city, it was announced today, in settlement for their lawsuit alleging illegal harassment by the New York Police Depatment. The amounts that will be paid to individuals range from between $500 to $35,000 and much of the money will go to cover the cyclists' legal fees. Altogether the payout will come to $965,000.

The settlement relates to a number of arrests made by the New York Police Department at Critical Mass demonstration in the city between 2004 and 2006 when the police arrested hundreds of cyclists at the monthly Critical Mass rallies. A group of those riders banded together in 2007 to launch a civil rights lawsuit against the police. In a perhaps not unrelated development the numbers of arrests then dropped sharply too. However, so did the numbers of people taking part in the Critical Mass rides.

Speaking afterwards to the Associated Press one of those that filed the suit, Barbara Ross, said that although the arrests had largely ended police intimidation of those taking part in the rides continued.

"The strategy is the same," she said. "They have just as many scooters and police cars following us as they ever did. They are still using intimidation, which is working, because the riders who try us out don't come back the next time."

The police continue to deny the charge of harassment past or present but In a statement the city's lawyer Mark Zuckerman said a settlement was "in the best interests" of everyone involved. This is not the first big payout to result from the behaviour of NYPD officers in and around Critical Mass rallies In March this year the City paid $97,751 to five cyclists who were wrongfully detained and arrested by the NYPD during a Critical Mass ride in March 2007. While, Christopher Long, the cyclist knocked from his bike by then officer Patrick Pogan received $65,000 in settlement when he sued the city.

The Patrick Pogan case was probably the most high profile to date involving the NYPD and a Critical Mass cyclist. Pogan, a rookie cop, was caught by a tourist's video knocking a cyclist off his bike during a Critical Mass ride through Times Square in 2008 - Pogan had claimed that the cyclist had assaulted him and resisted arrest. Pogan was subsequently fired from the force and convicted of falsifying evidence.

And only this week we reported on an allegation that an off duty New York police officer brandished a gun at a cyclist during a road rage incident.

Similar claims of a heavy handed approach to Critical Mass demonstrations have been made about the police in other US cities too, with the Los Angeles Police Department also having an unenviable reputation when it comes to policing Critical Mass rallies… they've even got their own video of a cop knocking a cyclist from his bike.

Ironically while relations between some cyclists and the police in New York may remain strained, the city administration has undergone a sea-change in its attitude to cycling over the past few years. Following the lead of other world cities like London and Paris large amounts of money have spent on cycle lanes and new cycling infrastructure and in making the city's streets safer for cycling – which was one of the main demands of those taking part in the Critical Mass rides.

Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.


Viro [3 posts] 7 years ago

I rode in San Francisco's Critical Mess of July '97.

There had been a few heart breakingly tragic road accidents in the city that summer and some people were righteously upset. The city probably could have averted alot of the ensuing mayhem but it quickly boiled down to a clash between the Mayor and the "Anarchists".

During the ride there was enough provocation by a vocal and visible minority that the police and a surprising amount of motorists (who were way more threatening to me than the cops) chose to "get their own back", with as much pleasure and abandonment as that seemingly on display by the cyclists.

My guess is that the victors of the NYC law suit will be seen by most New Yorkers as crybabies who want to break the law but don't want to pay for it; despite the inexcusable incidents like the one involving ex-policeman Pogan.

Maybe it's no bad thing then that the NYC rides are now smaller? The "organisers" of the SF Critical Mass came out against big rides shortly after that July debacle. Asking that future events be formed of self-organized clusters of about 10-30 cyclists; and to depart at different times and along different routes.