Tuesday, May 31, 2011

LOCAL: FreeWheels and the Crime of Bike-Riding

FreeWheels is a non-profit organization started in 2005 by people who had been arrested together while committing the "crime" of riding a bicycle in Critical Mass, an "organized coincidence" that meets in cities around the world on the last Friday of every month.

For years in New York City, the police acted as "chaperones" to Critical Mass, shadowing the ride on bikes and scooters, temporarily closing intersections as the ride meandered peacefully through the city. But during the Republican National Convention in August of 2004, when the city erupted in widespread non-violent protest, the NYPD adopted harsh measures to shut down dissent. More than 5,000 riders turned out for Critical Mass on August 27, 2004, just prior to the opening of the RNC. The NYPD responded in force, arresting 264 bicyclists and seizing their bikes as "evidence." Since the August arrests, Critical Mass has been the target of ongoing harassment by the NYPD, who insist the riders are breaking the law by "parading without a permit."

For more than 18 months, riders were arrested, handcuffed, put in a paddy wagon or police bus, and taken to a downtown precinct. FreeWheels met arrestees as they emerged from the police precincts, offering them food, drink, loaner bikes, and forms to fill out so that volunteer lawyers can help them get their bikes back more quickly.

Our legal challenges forced the police to scale back their harassment to ticketing for invalid charges such as "failure to keep right" or "riding outside of the bike lane." But in a move to repress not just bicyclists but ALL groups that dare to assemble without seeking their permission, the NYPD is attempting to label many common street and side walk uses as a "parade". If put into effect, these new rules will greatly suppress the right to assembly and expose peaceful protestors as well as regular people to arrest for things as simple as crossing the street against the light. Join FreeWheels and many other concerned New Yorkers to find out what you can do about it.