On the first Thursday of every month at about 4:30 p.m. a rather large group of cyclists gather for a peaceful ride around Tucson, beginning and ending at the UA Mall. The purpose is essentially to promote the bike as an economical, healthy and clean alternative to the automobile. And to seek greater involvement by the City of Tucson in promoting bike use (one week a year is not enough).
Critical Mass Bike rides take place in many major cities across the country, usually with those cities' help and protection. The participants are your neighbors, friends and fellow students. Republicans, Democrats and independents. Young and old, male and female. People of all races, from all walks of life who set aside their differences in an effort to improve the cities for everyone.
For this reason we rode today as we did last month, but today the CIty of Tucson and Tucson Police Department showed their true colors. Last month we were given a police escort and ended our ride by graciously thanking our public servants. Everyone enjoyed themselves, people gave us the thumbs up, waved and motorists were only delayed a few minutes. But Thursday instead of a friendly escort we were met by unfriendly police in riot gear.
The police were not tipped to the ride or to the route as the officer on the evening news said, like the previous ride we asked for help from the city. We were told the city couldn't afford the extra officers (15 to 20 on the previous ride). Somehow though they were able to scrape up enough funds for about 75 officers and have them positioned before the ride even began.
As the cyclists began gathering at the starting point, bicycle officers passed out leaflets telling us that we would be breaking the law if we obstructed traffic. We informed them that we were "traffic" and demanded the same protection provided other moving vehicles. The officers told us that we were only allowed to ride two bikes per lane, this is what we chose to do. What came next is something you might expect to see in China or a scene from the evening news of a repressive government squelching civilian unrest.
As we left the university turning east onto Speedway most of us, riding in pairs, stopped but then realized that we didn't have to. A row of motorcycle officers had lined up across the west side of the intersection stopping traffic. You could say the police obstructed the traffic before we had a chance to. Many cyclists seeing that the police were not allowing any automobiles behind us chose to ride in other lanes. As we neared Speedway and Campbell we encountered a row of officers in riot gear followed by police cars, a paddywagon and trucks to take away our bikes with. The motorcycle officers began to close in from behind and the foot officers in front, telling us over loudspeakers to lay our bikes down. As if they had become deadly weapons.
So here you have a group of bike riders (there was one guy on Rollerblades) the majority of whom are obeying the law (two per lane), being herded by motorcycle officers towards officers in riot gear to be arrested for obstructing traffic which the police had already obstructed prior to us arriving. Some of those same officers who were now arresting us probably gave us an escort last month.
Of course, the majority of us riding mountain bikes only had to hop the curb and ride back to the university, which we did. Only a small percentage of the group was caught and arrested. The police, however, obstructed traffic more than we would have and gave us publicity we couldn't have bought. So next time there will probably be more riders, but it's hard to say if we will get an escort or get arrested.
Remember one more bike is one less car!
Anonymous member of the mass
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