What happened to the police escort?

13 Eye Witness Reports

Report 1

Source: Peter Morrison

I saw no obvious police escort. I arrived shortly before 6:30 and left ~10 minute later with the group up steuart.

Report 2

Source: Joe Stampleman

I rode in Critical Mass on Friday until about 7:30pm. From the time that I left Justin Herman Plaza to the time that I left the group to go back to work, I saw only one Police Officer.

Report 3

Source: Stacey E. McCahan - Posted to the Critical Mass e-mail list (7/28/97):

I do want to point out that I joined the Mass on friday and rode for two blocks. I turned around at Spear and Mission when I realized this was not the "official" route and rode back to JHP, found Cap't Martell and Cap't Hubbard (sp?) and asked them:

"What the (bleep) is going on? WHERE is the police escort that you promised to provide? Why wasn't Mission blocked at Steuart so that the Mass would be directed on the correct path? Why do you have 5 or 6 motocycle cops sitting in the MUNI parking lot at Steuart and Mission just watching everyone go the wrong way? Most of these people have no idea they aren't on the "official" ride!!! These people have babies on the backs of their bikes, they're not here to protest!! WHAT'S GOING ON??? You're not following through with your part of the bargain to facilitate this ride! You came prepared for a riot not a ride!"

I WAS PISSED!! The response I got was:

Cap't Martel (at 6:30pm), "This is it! This is the last CM ride."

Cap't Hubbard (sp?), We just got a call that there is an incident on the bridge. We don't have the man power to facilitate the ride. It's not our responsibility! The route was published. Everyone should know the route. We handed out 2,000 flyers.

Me: "You don't have the man power?????" What about the agreement. What about the non-existent escort? You only printed up 2,000 flyers? There were 3,000 people at last month's ride alone - and you didn't anticipate more than that showing up for this ride? If you were going to print up 2,000 flyers, why not 4,000? It would have cost an extra $10 bucks?

Report 4

Source: Mark Motyka

I have been on over 20 Sf Critical Mass rides. Every time, my observation is that when a police escort is provided, there are at least 20 bicycle police waiting at Justin Herman Plaza before the ride starts, to provide an escort. On friday night I did not see 1 police officer on a bicycle. Some people claim that the police could not move about the city, because they were stuck in gridlock. Had there been bicycle police, they alone could have escorted the mass, or at least steered it onto the approved route (since it was follow-the-leader after to 6:30 ride started). The big mass broke due to the lack of confusion and a police escort. This is definite evidence of deliberate intentions on the part of the city that they never planned to provide an escort.

I believe the vast majority of cyclists believed (at least when they started) that they were on the police approved route, and that this route had a police escort in front, and therefore, expected it was OK to run the red lights.

Any other witnesses who looked for the bicycle police and did not see them?

Any other evidence that there was no intention of providing the promised escort?

Report 5

Source: Posted to the Critical Mass e-mail list (7/29/97):

The bike cops were there. I talked to a few of them who I've chatted with on past rides. They were there, mostly unhappy and the impression I got from the ones I talked to was that they felt like they had been set up.

Let's not get too conspiratorial here. The primary reason there was no bike escort for the ride on Friday was due to the (I'm gonna get flamed for this) *wingnuts* who thought it would be a good idea to try and ride the bay bridge. All the cops were regrouped to prevent that to happen and there were not enough of them present at 6:30 to both escort the ride and prevent people from riding onto the bridge.

You can blame the arrests on two things:

1) An order that had to come from the Mayor or the Chief of Police to make arrests (you cannot dispatch police in riot gear without an order from either one)

2) The simple fact that the police were humiliated by their lack of preparation for 10,000 riders. Police, when humiliated, always arrest people at demonstrations.

Report 6

Source: Robert Raman Boucher (7/29/97):
Voter, San Franciscan, Bicyclist

excerpts from letter to Willie Brown:

Regarding the chaos that insued after your speech to the participants, I respectfully blame your unsuccessful decision to make this a militant event on the part of the SFPD. Previous Critical Mass rides were accompanied by bicycle cops and only a few armed motorcycle cops. This time there were several cop cars (a first in my memory), many motorcycles (10 to 20), and a multitude of heavily armed officers. Why was such an army necessary at a peaceful event?

Why did squared cars and riot vans with officers in riot gear surround peaceful bicyclists riding down the street? I was there, I saw the bikers trying to ride, but being blocked by cops. One cop was quoted as saying War is hell as he took the bicycle of a participant (she had been standing on the sidewalk). As far as any violence on the part of motorists or bikers, such things are not suitable for the discussion of why Critical Mass is being targeted by the government. There was not any widespread violence by bicyclists, but only altercations between pairs of human beings. These would have happened with or without Critical Mass, and must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. There wasnt even wide-spread dissent among motorists for our cause. For every angry motorist, there were at least 5 cheering, supportive motorists.

Report 7

Source: Ed Rawlings

When I left Embarcadero at exactly 6:30 the route went down Stuart street and then immediately turned right on Mission -- all ready off track -- no police in sight. Until the next block. Either at Main or Spear a cop was standing in the cross street on the south side of Mission, blocking that street and motioning bicycles down Mission Street. I thought "well maybe I was mis-informed and this is the 'official' route" I found out I was wrong a few blocks later as we became mired along with the cars on Fremont St.

The ride then went up Fremont street and turned left on Market. I then went back to Embarcadero to see if the "official" route was happening. I then went around the same loop again: Stuart, Mission, Fremont, Market. No police to speak of, certainly not directing the ride down Stuart to Embarcadero, as the official route stated. Any hope of most people following the official route was doomed one block into the ride.

Report 8

Source: Roy Peterkofsky

In the interest of fact and accuracy ...

1) There were a few bicycle police hanging around JHP before the ride; one of them handed me the official police route flyer.

2) When the group left at 6:20 we encountered a cordon of bicycle police standing across Steuart St. with their bikes in front of them to form a continuous barricade. They refused to let anyone cross. Their intention was obviously to keep the pack from starting until they were ready to lead it at the official time. One effect was that no one could cross to ride, even if they intended to follow all traffic rules (which, in my opinion, then violated Mayor Brown's promise).

Report 9

Source: Tom Kiernan

I rode in this event and can say that I saw police at Justin Herman Plaza, but at 6:30 there was no police escort and no one directing the crowd as to the correct route. Once I saw the ride had begun, I joined the crowd and just followed.

Subsequently, the only police activity I saw was more to the detriment of public safety rather than to "to serve and protect." I saw police cars ride head on into the crowds of cyclists nearly running many of us over. I saw police manhandle riders and their bikes without any resistance by the riders to police orders. I saw police on motorbikes racing along sidewalks paying no attention to pedestrians. I saw police threaten riders with their billy clubs. I definitely saw arrests without reasonable cause. Many of us were stopped at a light by police on Market Street. They would not allow us to pass. After a large group had collected, they grabbed a few riders who were peacefully standing at the light waiting for direction from the police and threw them violently into a van.

I would also like to note that the Mayor had given us full authority to not stop at the red lights. I believe all of us felt we were in full compliance with the rules set forth.

If you have any questions on this, I would be happy to answer them. I also swear that all of the above information is accurate and that I witnessed it all with my own eyes. You can feel free to publish any of this information including my name.

Report 10

Source: Stephen McGarrigle

I left at 6:40 after all the speeches and saw no cops on bikes. No cops blocking any route to indicate which was the proper 'official' route.

People have talked about riding the bay bridge at every critical mass. I've been handed flyers for this and the old 'frenzy' for about 2 years. I agree they are mostly wingnuts and I say good luck to them. Still why send cops on bicycles to 'protect' the Bay Bridge as it were, we not send a car or two?

Report 11

Source: Ernest Breakfield (7/30/97)

They (the bike-cops) WERE there; they just didn't leave to lead as had been promised!

one of the times that i looped back through JH plaza, i saw ~15 bicycle cops sitting around as if they were waiting for someone to tell them what to do. at this point, (~18:45) JH was nearly empty, and cyclists had been streaming past them for ~15 mins already... but NOT on the allegedly approved route.

for the whole rest of the night, tho' i never saw one again. i don't know that they ever left JH on ANY route!

Report 12

Source: Dale Danley (7/30/97)

I got to Justin Herman Plaza at about 5:45, after leaving work. I hung out in the sun, watched the crowd assemble. I didn't hear any speeches at all. I went to get a big mac, and when I came back, at about 6:30, the crowd at the plaza was still huge. I noticed people had started leaving the plaza. At 6:35, I walked my bike past some police, and around some other impediments like cars and concrete traffic dividers -- and joined the river of bikes. There were no police giving directions. Willie Brown, on the other hand, was at the point of standing on top of something looking down at us and smiling as we left the plaza. I had arrived hoping for a peaceful ride with the police escort that the media had been describing all week. But it was not provided.

Report 13

Source: dtp (8/18/97)

I got some information from the SFPD (Sgt. Vince Simpson, a bicycle cop from Southern Station) regarding the start of the July 97 SF mass.

== begin Police account

The City was so confident about the changed start time (part of the public deal) that the police shifted their entire operations schedule 30 minutes back. Their operating plan was that approximately 5-10% of the ride would break away, peacefully or not. There was absolutely no intention on the SFPD's part to break the agreement that had been made, and they expected the ride to happen pretty much as usual, with a lot more people.

Groups started leaving Justin Herman around 6:10 pm. The police (bike cops) formed a line across Steuart to try to keep these groups with the main ride, but they were met with resistance--"Why are you stopping us, is this a skirmish line, can't we ride where we want?" The cops decided to open the sidewalks to allow the smaller groups to leave but keep the big group from following. Additionally, the riders were starting along the publicized route, what if the riders were just wanting to beat the crowd?

Many people went with the first group, and they turned right on Mission instead of taking the left to Embarcadero as the public route called. But the cops concentrated on keeping the big group together and let that first crowd go.

This was about 6:20. Many other riders were starting to make noise about wanting to leave. "The order came down" to get ready to go early, and the solos (heavy motorcycles) lined up on Steuart as a front of the ride. As far as the police were concerned, they still had a handle on the situation. But when the solos pushed through the intersection at Mission to block auto traffic on Embarcadero, the front of the big ride looked down Mission to the right, saw the first rider group (1000 people or more), and went that way, instead.

That was pretty much it for the publicized route.

Back to Eye Witness Index
Back to Three Questions

To receive regular e-mail updates, write us.
We won't share your address with anyone else and
you can remove yourself from the list easily any time.
Currently, we are the only source of info on this story