A Simple Chronology
June 27, 1997
Mayor Willie Brown's limosine is delayed in traffic because of the monthly Critical Mass bicycle ride causing him to be late to a party. He mentions the ride for the first time since entering office - and his comments are intensely negative.
June 28, 1997 and onwards
The mayor's emphatic public complaints about the ride trigger a wave of cyclist-bashing editorials, "news" stories and call-in radio shows. Callers expressing opinions in support of cycling are not given air time or find their remarks cut short. Suddenly, after five years of mostly uneventful rides, Critical Mass is declared a major city "problem."
The mayor calls for "reform" of the monthly ride and invites "representatives" of the ride to plan the July route with his office and Michael Yaki, an unelected member of the Board of Supervisors. Fairly or unfairly, some of the people selected to "represent" Critical Mass are widely disliked and distrusted by fellow riders. In any event, the ride has no leaders, so meeting with self-appointed "representatives" is considered an odd, not to mention invalid exercise by people familiar with the Critical Mass movement.
July 11, 1997
The city prints flyers declaring the monthly Critical Mass ride illegal, but does not distribute them
July 25, 1997
The mayor comes to the July ride and is booed and jeered roundly. Moments later, without warning or notice, the ride's traditional police escort is pulled leaving 5,000 or more cyclists stranded in downtown San Francisco at rush hour unaware there will be no security escort for their ride.
Television and radio news media begin emphasizing the existence of "splinter groups" even before the ride begins. Occasional incidents of misbehavior, though rarely captured on film or video, are used to characterize the spirit of the ride and the event is called "chaotic."
A group of cyclists on Market Street near Powell is attacked by a group of out of control police officers. The offficers assault cyclists and pedestrians alike in the middle of an uncongested street. Some are assaulted but not arrested. Others have their bicycles taken from them and smashed on the pavement.
A pedestrian photographer standing on the sidewalk is assaulted by a police officer who then attempts to take away the man's camera and threatens to "break his arm" if he refuses to surrender it. One of the two people who come to the aid of the instrument (a working tool valued at $4,000) is clubbed and pepper sprayed. Both are assaulted.
There are eye witness reports both from riders and pedestrians that cyclists wearing Willie Brown masks were singled out for harassment and, in at least one reported case, assault.
Later on Sacramento near Montgomery, riot police close off an entire block, order everyone on the block (cyclists and pedestrians) to disperse, block their exit, and then arrest everyone. Though the arrests are illegal, the police involved show restraint and no one is reported injured.
The press declares the evening to have been one of "mayhem" and say 250 cyclists were arrested on assault and other serious charges. A week later, it turns out only 115 were arrested, mostly for unprosecutable offenses like "failure to disperse" and "unlawful assembly." Less than 10 individuals (some of them pedestrians) are charged with serious offenses and the validity of many of the charges against them are suspect.
July 26, 1997
The media's cyclist bashing campaign picks up where it left off the previous month with increased vigor and a new sense of outrage. The mayor continues to add fuel to the fire. There is a total news blackout on the police riot on Market Street near Powell.
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