Sunday, May 28, 2006

Mass of arrests

By JOYANNE PURSAGA

A group of Winnipeg cyclists pinned to the ground and arrested mid-ride Friday adds to a long battle between police and a peaceful riders' movement, says a man who's spent years chronicling the riders' cause.

Winnipeg police said they arrested five adults on traffic-related charges and further charges may be added related to the rush-hour clash. But the cyclists said police used excessive force to make needless arrests.

"It really seems the unspoken charge is challenging the car culture," said Austin, Texas, resident Michael Bluejay, who runs Critical-Mass.info, a website directory of the rides.

"If you cross that line, you're going down."

The ride is meant to promote bicycle use over driving.

But Bluejay said it's not an excuse for illegal behaviour.

"I never excuse cyclists who break the law. Punishment should just fit the crime," he said.

"When's the last time you heard of a motorist getting arrested for failing to put on a seatbelt? In critical mass, they're tackling and arresting them for minor traffic infractions."

About 250 Critical Mass cyclists out of 5,000 were arrested in New York City during an August 2004 ride meant to protest the Republican National Convention.

A Montreal ride that spring led to fines and at least one arrest, said Bluejay.

His site has also tracked cyclist arrests in Los Angeles, San Francisco and several other cities.

The rides began in San Francisco in September 1992 and have spread across the world, according to Critical-Mass.info.

Winnipeg human rights lawyer David Matas said officers may have violated freedom of association rights, depending on the circumstances.

"I wasn't there and didn't see exactly what happened, but from the accounts out there, it appears they went too far," said Matas. "My sense is that these people were caught by surprise."

Winnipeg cyclist Melanie Howe said police directed Friday's cyclists toward a three-cruiser blockade near the corner of Donald Street and Broadway about 5:30 p.m., then singled out and arrested riders.

Aiden Enns said he saw a man dressed in plain clothes, who other protesters later identified as an officer, drag one cyclist by his head to a sidewalk while uniformed police pushed others off their bikes.

"From what I saw, the aggression was started by police," said Enns.

He said the cyclists did nothing to deserve what he describes as "police violence."

"We were taking up the whole street, which is problematic for traffic," said Enns. "We need to carve out a safe space for bicyclists in our city."

Winnipeg police did not return calls yesterday.

Several Critical Mass riders were also arrested earlier this month for allegedly disturbing traffic to protest Operation Charging Bison, a military exercise.

1 comment:

Mel said...

Someone posted an article on Windy.

http://winnipeg.indymedia.org/item.php?2958S