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.
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.