A detailed, firsthand account of the bizarre police action that took place near the Broadway tunnel on the September Critical Mass ride.
“(The) officers appeared to direct the bikes to enter the intersection and turn left onto Larkin Street. About five or six did so.
Several of them were immediately tackled, thrown to the ground, and surrounded by the riot police. They were then dragged, with their bikes, to the far side of the intersection. An officer carrying plastic handcuffs left his car and headed towards the tackled cyclists.”
I rode through the tunnel when it was blocked off on the west side, me and three other riders rode through and a cop said that it was fine, then when we got to the other side we were stopped by about 15 cops on motorcycles and 20 on foot, they harassed us for about 15 minutes (the whole time threatening to take us to jail) but after we wrote down all of their names and badge numbers and started stating our rights about being detained, they let us go, we then caught up with another pack of people coming down Lombard and had a great ride…I would also like to say thanks to everyone for the horns and for giving the cops the peace sign, it made the ride really great…Frank
Reports 2 though 5
Transcript of videotaped statements/live interviews from 5 different eyewitnesses to the Broadway tunnel incident, all taken within 2 hours of the incident. Questions posed are by the cameraperson.
Eyewitness 1 – Legal Observer
-Question: Explain what you saw.
-Reply: OK.I was here as a legal observer. I observed a group of people head East through the Broadway Tunnel. Then a number of them turned around and headed west through the tunnel. By the time I got to the West end of the tunnel at Larkin and Broadway the police had formed a skirmish line, a squad, blocking all traffic, primarily bicyclists on the South side of Broadway. I could hear one of then police commanders making an announcement over the loudspeakers, but from my location at the Northeast corner of Broadway and Larkin I could not discern what was being said. The squads then moved to block the bicyclists and not allow them to leave. I then went across Broadway to the Southeast corner, locked up my bicycle, attempted to walk across the street to the Southwest corner to observe more closely. As I got onto the sidewalk a police officer roughly grabbed me by the arm and prevented me from moving any closer to observe, but I was unable to get his star number. I then returned to the southeast corner. The bicyclists appeared to be detained for about 5-10 minutes and then the squad moved and the bicyclists were allowed to proceed East through the Broadway tunnel. Afterwards, I saw a bicyclist down on the ground in the middle of the intersection. I did not see him taken down. I did not see the reason for him being taken down. I have a description of him on tape. He was wearing a blue jersey with a black messenger bag, riding a red bicycle with dropped handlebars. I later saw him and he said that he was cited for some reason, but was not taken into custody. Also, early on when the police blocked the line of bicyclists on Broadway from proceeding, they did get on the loudspeakers and order bicyclists who had stopped traveling North on Larkin that they could not remain standing in the street, and most of the people continued up Larkin.
Eyewitness 2 Statement
-I was actually in a pretty lucky situation, because, the timing was, that they were letting people go left. So, I went left right before the tunnel. They appeared not to want people to go through the tunnel, even though they were just standing there at the time. So I went up a block, and then I just checked it out for a little bit. After maybe 20 people after I left, they cut off all the rest of the people. Wouldn’t let them go right, wouldn’t let them go left, and wouldn’t let them go through the tunnel. More and more motorcycle cops, regular cops. Basically what I saw was entrapment, entrapment of bicyclists because they didn’t have anywhere to go.
Eyewitness 3 Statement
– I saw one of them. I don’t know, you know, I sort of like, was there, waiting, while they were blocking everybody going through [the tunnel], and then right when they opened it, I just saw the guy get really tackled, I mean hard, and then that whole circle of cops went right around him, so.
-Question: Could you describe the entire situation, as you remember it, leading up to that? What was happening?
-Reply: I was going with a group that was going up Geary and turning on Van Ness and I saw some other people, so I turned back around, came up Polk, and whatever the street is up from Polk, the next street over [Larkin]. I saw a big crowd up there, so I went up that way, they [police] were blocking the whole intersection. There was like riot gear cops literally physically blocking everyone. People were chanting or kind of like yelling. They were letting the cars through on the red lights. I didn’t really know what was going on, it didn’t seem like anybody knew what was going on. The they somehow initiated like a police-led, OK, bikes-only through the tunnel. Right when that started, someone cross the street on their bikes were coming and seemed like they wanted to join the group. And it was all blocked off, it seemed all cool, like it was initiated, you know, by the police themselves. And then all of the sudden this cop just kinda flew out, and it was pretty rough, then there was the whole circle of cops around there. Everybody was booing it.
-Question: And you didn’t see him personally do anything that would warrant that use of force?
-Reply: No. Absolutely not.
-Question: What exactly did you see?
-Reply: I saw the police tackle a cyclist, knock him to the ground, and then I saw 2 other police come up and saw them drag him away. -Question: Do you have any badge numbers?
-Question: Did you happen to see if the cyclist was doing anything that would warrant that kind of force?
-Reply: Oh, absolutely not. I don’t know if he just went out into the intersection. I mean, he wasn’t riding his bike, he was just kind of rolling and then they knocked him down .They were just intimidating people, that’s what causes problems, they didn’t articulate what they wanted people to do.
-Question: Could you please describe everything you saw from the time you arrived at the Broadway tunnel up to and including the incident you saw please?
-Reply: I rode up Broadway because we were going to go through the Broadway tunnel, and also the traffic was completely stopped and I couldn’t figure out why it was completely stopped. And so I went up to the front, and noticed it was actually a line of police in riot gear and they were blocking of the street. And we actually yelled at them: “What’s going on? Can we just go through? Can we turn right? Can we turn left? Can we do anything? I mean, we’re blocking traffic here.” And the police just continued to block traffic and they didn’t tell us what was happening. Then, finally the police had some cars go through, but they still stopped us and we continued to ask them “What’s going on? Can we just continue on? We’ll go any way you want us to, we just want to get out of here.” And we waited, and we were actually blocked for about 15 minutes and there were even news reporters. And I’m wondering, what is happening here? And the police just seemed to be blocking traffic. Finally, they let us go and we were riding by, and a guy came from a side street, and I think he had a green light. And he was just joining the main crowd, and all of the sudden I saw this policeman just went up to him and he pulled him on the ground, and the only thing he did is he went by a policeman to join the main crowd. He wasn’t yelling at anyone, he wasn’t blocking traffic or anything like that. And instead of the police questioning him or anything like that they just dragged him off and they arrested him and they took his bike away. And so it seemed that the bicyclists weren’t doing anything at all, it was the police that were blocking traffic. I just don’t understand why they were doing that.
-Question: Did the cyclist you saw tackled do anything to warrant the amount of force used, in your opinion?
-Reply: No, not at all. I mean, he was just riding around. He was completely surprised that he was stopped because I believe he had the green light, and even if he didn’t have the green light, suddenly traffic was stopped there, because they were trying to get the bicyclists to move, and so all the cars were stopped, and so all he was doing is he was joining the crowd. And for some reason the police just wanted to stop him. But the police had some problem, you know. It wasn’t that they were trying to facilitate traffic, they were basically just trying to assert control.
-Question: Did you hear any orders given to any of the cyclists by the police? Any official police orders?
-Reply: Yeah. What they said is, “get away from these cars, we want these cars to go through”, so people said, “Well, where should we move? It’s really crowded here”, and they said, “Just move back or whatever.” And so finally we were able to move back, and we got away from the couple of cars and then those cars went through, and we continued to ask the police what we should do and they wouldn’t tell us. All we wanted to do was continue, we didn’t care which way we continued, we just wanted to get out of there and not block traffic.
-Question: Do you feel the police gave you an option to move out of the way?
-Reply: No. they blocked us for 15 minutes. It was absurd. We could have just continued. They just decided that they had to be there, they had to assert their authority, and things like that. There was no real reason for doing that.
If you’re interested, here’s a firsthand report of another mini police riot at tonght’s Critical Mass. Feel free to do whatever you’d like with the following. If you republish it, I’d appreciate it if you would remove my name from it for the time being. If any of the victims of the event need witnesses for their court dates, I’ll be happy to tell my story there. Maybe they could get in touch with me through you?
Just a little background…I get to and from work by bicycle because it’s pretty much the only viable option. Parking south of market is prohibitively expensive and Muni is, well, Muni. I occasionally ride in critical mass, but I’m by no means one of those cycling fanatics the local media has been fabricating lately. It’s just that I find the experience of pedaling home with five thousand friends to be inspiring; if it has the side-effect of raising awareness of the city’s sub-optimal transportation policies, so much the better.
The ride started off nicely, down Mission, across Market and west up Geary past Union Square. The police had warned that they were not “facilitating” the ride, and that they had stationed various groups of officers around the city for the purpose of arresting bicyclists running red lights.
The first of these battalions was gathered in front of the Curran Theater just west of Union Square on Geary. For the most part, they were just standing around, distractedly collecting overtime. The only officer paying attention to the hundreds of cyclists passing by was a short, young guy with a crew cut leaning against one of the police cars. He was entertaining himself by leering suggestively, waving and whistling, at women riding by. It doesn’t matter who he was; the fact that he was doing it in full view of his colleagues, commanding officer, and the crowd of cheering tourists was enough.
At Van Ness, the group turned right, towards the north. There was general talk of heading up through the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was taking an hour or so off from work, so I planned on turning off at Broadway, and heading back through the Broadway Tunnel.
When we arrived at the intersection of Van Ness and Broadway, I was pleased to see that pretty much everyone else had the same tunnel idea and were also turning right, east, onto Broadway and toward the tunnel.
One block east, at Polk Street, there was a large traffic jam in progress. Up ahead, we could see the reason. At the next block, Larkin Street, a battalion of police officers had blocked the entrance to the tunnel and were directing traffic alternately left and right onto Larkin Street.
Traffic was moving slowly, a result of apparent confusion among the officers redirecting it. When I arrived at the intersection, there was an older officer with a bullhorn announcing that the tunnel was closed, and that all bicycles and cars would need to go around. He was attempting, with little success, to send alternate groups north and south on Larkin. Unfortunately, his plans were not well communicated to the other officers.
When it was our turn at the corner, we were confused by the presence, on the left side of the intersection, of a group of police directing us to the right, and on the right, by a different group of police directing us to the left. Directly in front were several motorcycles and a police car blocking entrance to the tunnel. As far as could be seen, the tunnel was not closed for any real reason; at least, not for any reason which conformed to the normal rules of everyday logic.
We eventually managed to turn left, following the directions of the police on the right.
Since I was heading back toward the southeast side of the city, and since there was the formidable Russian Hill between me and there, and since the tunnel provides an easy path under the hill, I decided to circle around again in hopes that the tunnel would eventually be opened up. Three left turns around the block and I was back at Broadway and Larkin.
The situation had deteriorated in the few minutes I had been gone. As a result of the blocked tunnel and general mishandling of traffic directions, the group of cars and bikes at the entrance had grown much denser. The lack of coordination on the part of the police had led to bikes and cars tightly intermingled in both the left and right lanes. This is when things started to get out of hand.
Sensing his inability to direct traffic to conform to his idea, the officer in charge took his bullhorn and commanded “All bicycles in the left lane must move into the right lane. All bicycles in the left lane will be arrested. You are blocking traffic.” He seemed to be intentionally creating a situation where it would be impossible to follow his directions; by now, both the left and right lanes were packed full with cars, and there was no room to move right. Someone in the crowd shouted “But we -are- traffic!” The officer walked in the direction of the shout and sneered (I realize this is a subjective characterization, but it is also accurate) into his bullhorn, “you’re the first one going to jail.”
At this point, it was clear that there would be trouble. My limited experience with large groups of police suggests when they cross the line from “we are enforcing the law” to “we are the law”, that problems soon follow. I pulled my bike off the street, locked it to a lamppost about halfway down the block, and walked up to where I could get a better view of the action.
The inelegant plan of the officer with the bullhorn appeared to be this: he would separate the bikes into the right lane, and the cars into the left. Then he would let the cars through, and figure out what to do with the bikes later. There were about thirty cars and about one hundred bicycles waiting to get through the intersection. His job was made easier because the police had now closed the street behind us at the Polk Street intersection and were not letting any more traffic onto the block.
Through various contortions, the bikes and cars managed to separate themselves. A large percentage of the bicycle segment of the traffic pulled their bikes onto the sidewalk and walked back down to Van Ness to join the others in heading off to some other part of the city. By the time most of the cars had been allowed to pass, there were about 40 bikes left standing in the right lane, waiting to see if the tunnel would now be opened.
Up until this point, the actions of the police had resulted in an apparently unnecessary closure of one of the city’s main thoroughfares for almost half an hour. There had also been complete compliance with every police request by the bicyclists. Another subjective reading of the situation here: the lack of any problems on the part of the cyclists, combined with the unnecessary closing of the tunnel, was going to be an embarrassment to the bullhorn officer when he got back to headquarters. And a non-subjective observation: so he decided to start some trouble.
From where I was standing, the events appeared to unfold in the following way. A group of about 8 helmeted riot police wielding clubs formed a wall across Larkin Street to the right. A second group gathered on the far side of the intersection to the left. Several normally-uniformed officers approached the group of bikes waiting at the intersection. These officers appeared to direct the bikes to enter the intersection and turn left onto Larkin Street. About five or six did so.
Several of them were immediately tackled, thrown to the ground, and surrounded by the riot police. They were then dragged, with their bikes, to the far side of the intersection. An officer carrying plastic handcuffs left his car and headed towards the tackled cyclists.
Almost immediately, the police blocking the entrance moved aside, and the remaining bicycles were directed onward, into the now opened tunnel. As if to underscore the lack of professionalism displayed by the police that evening, several of the gentlemen in riot gear shouted insults and swung their clubs (from twenty feet away, no danger of contact) at the departing bicycles. The motorcycle police roared off into the tunnel following the bicyclists in exactly the same six-abreast, across-two-lanes formation which they had only a short time earlier declared illegal for bicycles.
I stayed safely on the south side of the intersection for another five minutes or so. Eventually, the group of police surrounding the tackled cyclists broke up. There did not appear to be any arrests, and everyone seemed to be walking away with their bikes.
When I crossed to the other side of the street, one of the tackled cyclists was being interviewed by several news reporters including a man with a portable recorder wearing a KGO News t-shirt, and what seemed to be van number 2 from the channel 5 TV News team. I didn’t catch his name, but the police sure managed to pick an articulate victim. Long curly brown hair, thin, with a well-used red road bike. He was very carefully explaining the problems cyclists encounter every day on the city’s streets, and had a clear answer to even the most hopeless questions from the TV reporter.
“So the police simply gave you a ticket for running a red light?”
“Yes, but first six of them tackled me.”
“Aren’t all you cyclists slowing down traffic?”
“It’s rush hour and the maximum speed in the city is 35 mph, we are keeping up with it.”
“The police say that you are using -both- lanes in the tunnel.”
“Yes, and there are cars using both lanes of the tunnel too.”
And so on for about ten minutes.
The crowd broke up, so I retrieved my bike and headed back toward work. I decided to avoid whatever might be happening in the tunnel, and headed over the hill on Union Street. At the top of the hill, at the cable car stop at Hyde, I noticed two officers inside the Swenson’s Ice Cream shop. So I parked my bike where they could obviously see me parking it, and went inside.
Two officers, a silent older one with a serious alcohol nose and a younger, talkative Latino man, were preparing to enjoy two large and whipped cream covered sundaes. I ordered a small cup of chocolate, and struck up a conversation.
“So how’s the ride going,” I asked.
“It’s chaos out there. You can’t control bicycles.”
“Well, why do you even bother? They look pretty innocuous to me.”
“I have no idea, but that’s what they tell us to do. Myself I like bikes”
“So you’ve got orders right from the top to go out and bust some heads?”
“Right down from the top. Not heads, but to make some arrests. When Frank Jordon was mayor, he got a real kick out of all those bikes. But Brown is different.”
We chatted for a while longer, and then wished each other a good night.
I headed south down the hill and across the flat SOMA district on the perilous 9th Street. For reasons I hope never to fully understand, just to preserve the surreality of the end of the evening, at the otherwise deserted corner of 7th and Townsend the entire USC Marching Band, dressed in full parade regalia, was standing in formation tuning up with a warm and resonant b-flat echoing off the empty brick buildings. No police were present; nor, given the lack of threat to the peace presented by several hundred horn players gathered together, should there have been.
This (http://www.brasscheck.com/cm/broadway.html) must have happened after we rode through the tunnel. Its scary to see confirmation of our fears of what the authorities are capable of when they are opposed to how we exercise our civil rights. Its also apparent that from the news media and the occasional letter to the editor that there are people out there who hate bicycles; and the police legitimize this behavior. Its obvious also that the police can’t be trusted as most minorities in the city can say first hand. The Bennett Halls etc need to sue the hell out of these goons. From the police show I witnessed at the south east corner of Crissy Fields and the reports from Union Square and the Broadway Tunnel its apparent that
1- the police make a bigger deal of any threat to the status quo (in this case cars) however insignificant the protest. (Until Mayor Brown saw himself as the defender to the status quo no one knew CM existed.)
2- the police are poorly trained in and don’t care to protect our civil rights. This is obvious anywhere in America but ignored by the wealthy white status quo which happens to own the media. Rodney King type incidents are supposed to be aberrations. Most cyclist probably still think that the larger social issues which color the fabric of American life are not related to Critical Mass.
3- The uniform deforms the police brass so that they are not human enough to evaluate the issues in a protest and formulate a policy in opposition to Fat Cats like Brown. (Everyone is following orders. Didn’t we hear this in 1945?)
4- The police are not aware of the law or vehicle code. They will gladly throw us in jail for riding in traffic as traffic to prove to the media that they are doing their jobs even though no self respecting court will honor these charges. (In this respect it is up to us to be aware of our rights and this web site and the Bike the Bridge coalition have gone a long way in helping us learn what we are entitled to as citizens.)
6- The police set up the confrontational conditions which result in their perceived need of themselves. If they weren’t there at the Broadway Tunnel like they weren’t on Lombard or Columbus nothing would have happened and the media would have been right that another mass had passed peacefully. But by setting up these confrontational points, blocking traffic at these point with their show of ‘force,’ they end up justifying themselves by using force to clear the traffic jam they have caused.
7- Cyclist need to be suspicious, careful, and defensively with respect to the keepers of public (dis)order. We already do this with respect to drivers. But in California, because of the climate created by Brown and the impact of TV, cyclists need video cameras, notebooks, and tape recorders to chronicle the harassment which the media is ‘trained’ to ignore.
Currently, we are the only source of info on this story