Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bicycle culture? Not among the police.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a laywer, although I think these bike laws are pretty clear. This version of events is my own, and has not been verified by a court of law.

Yesterday, I spent a lot of time on my bicycle-- much of it with my brothers and sisters of Occupy Riverside, engaged in joyful, peaceful protest on the occasion of May Day. During a demonstration ride up 14th St. to the Community Convergence at Bordwell Park, however, things got a measure less peaceful-- thanks to the intervention of Riverside's finest.

Anyone who's ridden along 14th street from Downtown knows that the travel lanes are jammed in three-abreast, and are reasonably narrow. There is no bicycle lane, and no wide shoulder. So, as is our right under CVC 21202(a), we took the right-hand lane. There were people in the group who hadn't ridden a bike in a while, so we were going pretty slow, and this was obviously pissing off the drivers behind us (even though we never completely blocked the street). So of course, RPD came to their rescue.

Around Sedgwick Ave., an RPD patrol car came up behind us and began ordering us over the loudspeaker to "get on the sidewalk." This shows a lack of understanding of bicycle law on the part of the officers, because not only did we have a right to the road, but they were actually ordering us to do something that's illegal in Riverside. Here's RMC 10.64.330 (warning, PDF link):
Except for authorized police bicycle patrols, no person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk or parkway unless signs are erected permitting use of such sidewalk or parkway by
bicycles. (Ord. 5924 § 1, 1991; Ord. 2940 § 11.9, 1961)
Of course, we had no intention of engaging in illegal conduct while being followed by a police patrol car.

 As I mentioned, we were riding to the Convergence at Bordwell Park-- something like a giant free community picnic/grocery-and-clothing giveaway/party, for those unfamiliar. Bordwell Park is at Kansas and 14th, literally the next major street after Sedgwick. I have no doubt in my mind that the officers in question knew that that was our destination. So what did these fair-minded crusaders for justice think was the appropriate response to this imagined lawbreaking? Did they choose to simply allow us to continue on our way, for one block, and deal with the minor traffic disruption?

Of course not. As we approached Kansas, an officer (who we believe to be officer A. Watkins) pulled his patrol car in front of us in order to block our progress, jumped out of his car with his Tazer drawn, and tackled one of our number off of his bicycle. This was his response to what he thought was a minor traffic violation (and what was not, in fact, a violation of any kind). When we rushed to start filming this brazen act of police brutality, as is necessary to hold our public servants accountable for their actions, roughly 30 more officers converged on the intersection in the span of a minute or so, tangling up traffic far more than a few bicycles ever did. They started pushing the protesters back towards the park, blocking the view of our cameras, and in the ensuing scuffle another of our number was beaten and arrested- I'm not aware of what he was charged with.

To reiterate my point- our ride would have left the roadway on the other side of the intersection where it was forcibly halted. The police knew that, as evidenced by the fact that they had a gaggle of officers standing by within a minute's drive. They knew who we were and where we were going. This officer chose to make an arrest, by force, for a traffic violation-- one that wasn't actually occurring.

Obviously, this is a worrying incident for the relationship between public and the officers sworn to protect them, but I want to talk about the impact it has on cycling in our city. It is no secret that developing a "bicycle culture" in Riverside is a priority of the current Mayor and City government. It is also no secret that our bicycle facilities are somewhat lacking, and taking the lane is a necessary maneuver in many cases. Finally, this is not the first time that I have encountered police officers that are seemingly ignorant of the law they purport to enforce, at least when it comes to bicycles.

What message does this send to people who want to join in the cycling renaissance in our city? "Hey, we'd like you to bike, but idiot drivers who don't know the law aren't your only worry-- you also need to watch out for police officers, who could run you down or Tazer you for following the law." Among the many, many things that we need to fix with respect to cycling in Riverside, some remedial bike law training for the police is pretty high on that list.


Seth said...

Great piece bud!

Barb said...

Looking forward to seeing whatever video is available to support your position- and hold them accountable for suspect behavior.

JN said...

Barb- I'm still looking for the video of the first arrest. We were all kind of shocked, so most of us didn't get our camera phones out in time. I'll post it up once I find it, but this is a true account.

DJB said...

What a terrible incident. I hope it becomes the catalyst for reform that it should.

Ruthie said...

I'm so sorry this happened to you! Please keep us appraised of how this turns out in your blog!