Clean Air Riders in LA: Special LA Info
Subject: In LA, Ride a Bike & Go to Jail
> I'm sorry not to have the author's name, but the following article
> in the Chicago Tribune either Wednesday or Thursday.
> DEAR MOTHER TRIBUNE, SEND BAIL MONEY
> Covering an environmental protest on a bicycle in the City of Angels
> during convention week makes for a ticket...
> August 17, 2000 Your Honor, if I may address the court of public
> opinion, I would just like to say this about being busted by the Los
> Angeles Police Department for riding my bike while reporting on a
> demonstration: I can't imagine this happening in Chicago, where our
> cycle-loving mayor has painted bike lanes on city streets, and police
> each month permit the same type of group ride that landed me in the Los
> Angeles County Jail on Tuesday night.
> And I don't suppose Philadelphia's finest would have responded to
> 60 bicyclists carrying provocative signs such as "More Bikes, Less
> Cars" as the L.A. cops did: "Put the bikes down!" they thundered.
> "Don't use the kickstands!"
> After all, at the recent Republican National Convention,
> Philadelphia's popular police commissioner, John Timoney, directed his
> restrained force from the seat of a mountain bike.
> But my eight hours in the custody of the LAPD and the county jail seems
> all too appropriate.
> What could be more fitting than getting arrested and cited for "reckless
> driving" of a bike in a city with three major problems: clogged
> traffic, the resulting pollution and a police department with one nasty
> reputation for dealing with the public?
> The ride was called a "Critical Mass" event, held during the convention
> to promote bicycling as a way to relieve traffic congestion and
> pollution. Before it began, an organizer told the gathered cyclists to
> "obey the laws out there" and "stay safe." He also announced a "jail
> support number" in case of arrest.
> Among those duly noting it was Mimi LaValley, a pleasant,
> 19-year-old activist from L.A.
> "We're challenging corporate greed that says there needs to be more
> cars on the street," LaValley said, "and consumerism that says everyone
> needs to drive their own car." Besides, she added, "this is a socially
> responsible way to commute."
> Cmdr. David Kalish of the LAPD alleged in a Wednesday morning news
> conference that I "had committed all the same violations that the other
> people did." This is true, if he was referring to stopping at red
> lights, going through intersections as police or crossing guards
> stopped side-street traffic, and being escorted by two dozen L.A. bike
> cops. Many pedestrians cheered, and car drivers honked in support as
> the cyclists made their way through L.A.'s oddly empty downtown streets
> at rush hour. Some riders held signs with sayings such as "One Less
> Car," or "The Revolution will not be Motorized."
> After about 30 minutes, I began dictating notes to a colleague with a
> cell phone--not the safest bicycling method, I admit--and described how
> a dozen squad cars suddenly raced in and blocked our path as the
> bicycle cops peeled away.
> Then about 20 LAPD motorcycle officers appeared and steered us down a
> side street, but one of them smiled and assured me: "We like bicycles.
> We're here to escort you." That made sense, because it was an
> officially sanctioned demonstration.
> Less than two minutes later, as we approached an underpass, police
> suddenly swarmed around us and shouted, "Put the bikes down!"
> One commanding officer said, "Calm down. Calm down." "I am calm," said
> Juliet Musso, a professor of public policy at USC who had reluctantly
> joined the ride with her husband. "I know," he replied. "I'm talking to
> my colleagues." Several younger officers were shouting and menacing the
> cyclists. But a middle-aged commander assured us: "Don't worry.
> Everything is going to be all right."
> With their hands on their holstered batons, officers in riot gear told
> us to get "up against the fence!"
> Still, except for a few, the officers were professional in handling
> our arrest.
> They cuffed us behind our backs with hard plastic "flex cuffs" and kept
> us at the fence under the overpass for an hour or so.
> After noticing my press credentials, one gentlemanly officer assured me
> that I'd get off with a "minuscule fine."
> Then he asked, "What are you covering here?" "Protests and
> demonstrations," I said. An eager young cop walking with us inquired:
> "So are we containing this better than they did in Philly?"
> Not wanting to perturb anyone there who was armed and not handcuffed, I
> measured my words carefully.
> "In Philadelphia, they let marchers take over the streets and block
> traffic for hours," I told him. "It wasn't until a small number of
> anarchists started bashing police cars that they did move in, and
> forcefully." He smirked.
> Nearby, some protesters began to gather beyond the police lines and
> offer an earnest, if amusing chant: "Ride your bike! Go to jail!"
> Standing with my face against a brick wall, I got a little nervous when
> a bomb squad officer arrived to search our backpacks.
> I made sure to tell him that mine contained a gas mask--a precaution for
> covering the protests--so he wouldn't be surprised. After another hour,
> officers led us onto a Los Angeles County Sheriff's prisoner van for a
> trip to the county jail. Waiting in the sheriff's bus for an hour or
> so--hands still cuffed--the protesters got a little giddy, singing
> Happy Birthday to someone named Scott who turned 32 on Tuesday.
> The driver cranked the bus stereo. On came "Two Tickets to Paradise" by
> Eddie Money, the '80s rocker who once worked for a police department.
> "We've waited so long, waited so long," Money sang as we stewed in the
> bus. A sense of camaraderie worked its way through the bus, but so did
> an unnerving rumor: that running three or more red lights on a bike
> might be a felony.
> Needless to say, the long wait in the bus gave us plenty of time to
> get acquainted.
> Jonathan Aurthur, 52, told how his boss had warned him that morning
> about demonstrators at the Republican convention who had stripped in
> lockup so cops couldn't identify them in protest videotapes by their
> clothes. "Don't protest in the nude," she told him. "In L.A. they'll
> arrest you anyway."
> Once we arrived at the jail, we were searched--not stripped, but the
> officers made certain we weren't hiding anything anywhere.
> It wasn't rough treatment; just the stern bureaucracy of a jail. And for
> every overly macho guard, there were others like the one who patiently
> helped an arrestee.
> The young man had a mess of green and black dreadlocks, and the officer
> spent more than 15 minutes chatting with him and helping pick beads out
> of his hair as a security measure.
> Finally, after guards fingerprinted and took my mug shot ("McRoberts,
> Flynn, DNC Inmate"), a commanding officer led me to an empty holding
> cell, sat me down and asked me what the heck I was doing there.
> I told him I was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune assigned to cover
> the convention protests.
> He looked at me sternly and said, "That's not what we were told." My
> heart stopped. Images of "Midnight Express"--where an American
> languishes in a Turkish prison--flashed through my mind.
> "We were told you worked for the L.A. Times," he said ominously. I
> chuckled and said, "Well, we merged with them several months ago, so
> we're all part of the same family."
> Most of my fellow bicyclists--70 adults and one juvenile in all--had to
> spend the night in jail until their arraignments.
> The truly honorable thing for me to do would have been to insist on the
> same treatment--a la John McCain in the Hanoi Hilton.
> But I had my own mission. I asked a sheriff's deputy if I would be out
> by 9 a.m. Wednesday because I was supposed to cover a march against
> police brutality. He suggested convention-floor duty would be a better
> idea. On Wednesday, I got my property back--except for the rented bike,
> which was being held as "evidence," police told me.
> After realizing that police had wrongly cited us--for "reckless
> driving," a violation that doesn't apply to bike riders--the city
> attorney's office altered the charges. Like the others, I'm facing a
> misdemeanor charge of "obstructing a public way" and two traffic
> infractions. In any case, I couldn't help but remember something Mimi
> LaValley, the teenage bike activist, told me before the ride.
> "My message to drivers out there," she said, "is: There's a better way."
> The same message might be sent to the LAPD.