Sunday, August 06, 2006

Contrast

Police officers are a cross-section of the population just like the rest of us. Some are outstanding at doing their jobs. Some are thick-headed thugs with a badge and a gun. I've met both kinds and written about them here on CycleDog. In the two examples that follow, both ends of the spectrum are represented. First, there's an e-mail from Mike Flenniken about a ride in central Oklahoma, and the police response to an incident.

The second piece is excerpted from BikeBlog.


There were four of us riding south into the wind on 11th street just north of Wagoner Road in Yukon yesterday evening when a pick-up with 3 – 16 year old boys crossed the centerline heading toward us while laying on the horn and laughing. They swerved at about 2 feet from us and continued North about 2 blocks before turning in at the FFA facility on the east side of 11th street.

We turned around, rode to the entrance (blocking their exit) and called 911. The Yukon police responded quickly with 2 officers/cars. They questioned the boys separately and after hearing numerous different versions finally got the truth out of them. We initially told the officers that we wanted to file a complaint but after speaking with the boys we were convinced by their apologies that they would not do it again. The driver was the “leader” and was showing off for the other two. He broke down and cried in front of his buddies when he finally admitted what he had done. For a 16 year old boy, crying in front of the boys he was trying to impress was probably more effective as a deterrent than doing 10 years of hard time in the slammer!

The officers both advised us that they would fully support us if we wanted to file the complaint but they agreed that these boys had learned their lesson.

It is a shame that the human brain takes 25 years to fully wire into an adult… But then again, it gives us that time to help train people to be “good” adults. I’ve seen a lot of much older people still behave as though they were kids.


Mike Flenniken



BikeBlog

Whats been going on...Recap of the critical massness.
By Michael Green


So the police announced they no longer want to mess around with this legal bike riding nonsenese so they came up with some laws on their own and are going to allow the people to listen to the rules defined at a public hearing on August 23rd. at Police Headquarters and make sure to video tape and barcode all those in attendance to root out who the "trouble makers are." No need for city council involvemnet, too messy. When the NYPD gets annoyed with silly things like the constitution and a federal and state judge's ruling...its time to make up your own rules. Here is what they have announced.

1. Require parade permits for bicyclists traveling in groups of 20 or more.
2. Any cyclists or walkers who take to the streets in groups of 2 or more and disobey traffic laws need a permit.
3. Require a permit for 35 or more people who restrict themselves to the sidewalk. (just in case you try and get out of the street and hang out on the sidewalk. So if you can't be in the street and you can't be on the sidewalk?)
and
4. anyone who even thinks about parading in the street needs a permit....ok I made number 4 up...but it will probably be next if the secert police get their way. B is for Bicycles.

Have you ever tried to get a permit for something political in this town? Its like asking president Bush to complete a long difficult sentace...impossible.

(snip)

“Let us remember that part of the right to protest is the right to spontaneously protest,” said City Councilman Alan Jay Gerson of Manhattan. Besides, Mr. Gerson said, it should be up to the Council, not the police, to change rules governing free speech. Indeed, the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said in a statement yesterday that “these proposals raise significant questions that we are examining carefully.”

PRACTICAL considerations also come to mind. Will 20 people on a routine bike tour have to get a parade permit? How about 35 kids walking as a group on a class trip? Or a funeral procession?

Paul J. Browne, a Police Department spokesman, dismissed all this as “grasping at unrealistic scenarios.” Still, some will wonder if the rules are to be uniformly enforced or applied mainly to groups deemed nettlesome, like Time’s Up. The question is part of a broader issue that New Yorkers have faced since 9/11: How do we balance the demands of security and order with our tradition of openness and free expression?



Years ago, I attended a disaster response seminar put on by the city of Tulsa. The main speaker contrasted the response at the Oklahoma City bombing with the first New York Trade Center bombing. It seems so long ago now, almost like another life. But the emergency responders who had been to both bombings said that the people of Oklahoma were warm and open, freely giving whatever was needed, while New Yorkers were mostly pissed off at the traffic and disruption. How things have changed.

“Few visitors to Oklahoma leave without remarking on the friendliness of the people, who blend Southern hospitality with the openness found in the West. Many an out-of-state visitor driving in the western plains has been mystifies by the number of total strangers who wave hello. “Oklahomans are what other people think Americans are like,” Will Rogers said about his native state in the 1920s. “Oklahoma is the heart, it’s the vital organ of our national existence.””
…Fodor’s Road Guide USA

That same openness is still apparent on our local roads (at times) when complete strangers drive by and wave, eighty years since Will Rogers said that.

I'm not a fan or a supporter of the so-called 'spontaneous' Critical Mass rides, particularly since the New York riders seem determined to ignore traffic law and generally behave as a pain-in-the-ass-mass. Other cities have had far fewer incidents involving riders and the police. Perhaps they're doing something differently than the New Yorkers. Perhaps they're riding legally, obeying traffic lights, and behaving as traffic.

While I cannot condone the illegal practices of running red lights and corking intersections, I can't condone the egregious behavior of the New York police department, either. Unless I'm mistaken, potential laws in this country are crafted by legislators. The executive branch, whether that's a mayor, governor, or the president, signs the bill into law.

Police departments do not have the authority to make law. That is, unless you invoke the magic '911' phrase and insist that in our post-911 era, they simply have to do so in order to meet changing situations in the most expeditious manner.

The proper response to that is - bullshit.

If we still have the right to free speech, and even that may be debatable given the present political climate, we have the right to say and act in whatever manner we choose, provided we stay within the law. Again, the NYPD cannot make laws, and they especially cannot craft laws specifically as a mean to abolish protests or abrogate our right to free speech and assembly. Legislatures make laws, not cops. NYPD will act as if this is a legal authority when they use it to quash some group like CM, but ultimately the courts should toss the case out, or at least I hope so.

(Do you ever wonder why we never see one of these stories on "Law and Order"? Could it be because they couldn't portray the police and district attorney in a favorable light? There's precious little 'law' when the police just make things up and 'order' results from the use of force.)

If a cyclist runs a red light, give him a ticket. If he corks an intersection, again, ticket him. But it's another thing altogether to ticket a group of people simply because they were on the street, or even on the sidewalk. We wouldn't bat an eye at seeing a motorist get pulled over for speeding, but I'm entirely certain that if the police blocked off an interstate and cited EVERY driver for the same offense, any sane judge would toss the case out. In a place like New York, the right to use the public streets is an imperative for all cyclists and pedestrians. It's not like there's any other choice.

So it's refreshing to read an account like Mike's in which the police do their jobs in a professional manner. They enforced the law rather than invented it. They upheld individual rights rather than squelched them.

Sometimes I get annoyed with the 'stubborn, ignorant, and PROUD of it' attitude that radiates from some of my acquaintances. It's a trait that is all too common and clearly not isolated to Oklahoma. But then I ride home along some county road, and just as Will Rogers described, some motorist going the other way will smile and wave as he goes by.

2 Comments:

Blogger Paul Tay said...

From every accounts from NYC, no matter what bicyclists do, obey the law or not, it seems the NYPD cares not a whit about the legality of their actions.

They've already ignored one court order and are determined to ban ALL bicycling in NYC. CM or not. Even the individual cops on the street are grousing at the bigshots, specifically the Mayor.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Fritz said...

Great post, Ed.

Woodside is a city near me that's along a popular road for cyclists. Organized group rides of dozens of cyclists pass through this town every weekend. The city wants to require parade permits for these roadie rides on "their" public roads.

12:34 PM  

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