Saturday, January 28, 2006

CCM Arrests at the Memorial

Friday was the January Critical Mass Ride, traditionally the Polka Ride to go see the Polkaholics (punk/polka band). En route was going to be the installation of the Ghost Bike to memorialize the site where Isai Medina died earlier this year. About 400 riders were in attendance and all was well.

When we reached the installation site, we clogged Northbound Western Avenue and filled the sidewalk, too. I was riding in the rear of the mass and just as I got there several squad cars approached. The police did Not look happy. I went to speak with the nearest officer and told him that this was a memorial for a bicyclist who was killed and wouldn't last long. He didn't make eye contact and said that we would have to "install the memorial inside the paddy wagon if we were still there when it arrived."

Shortly there were lots, Lots of police officers and their cars, marked and unmarked. They completely closed down the street to Northbound traffic and milled about uneasily. Quickly we saw several people being lead away by the police. The officers who had been standing around were telling us we had to leave. The news reporters who came to cover this Special Interest story found themselves in the middle of a much hotter story. Soon the bigger News Channel vans arrived, too.

I saw a little girl with a small pink bike crying and being lead away by her father as the cameras rolled. Payton directed people to go to the Police Station on Wood and Augusta and lead a group there. Paul and I waited around for a while. Then he went to stop at his house while I went directly to the Police Station.

I got the names of people who were arrested and tried to gather as much information as possible before I went inside. No one knew much, but everyone was pretty riled up. I kept my hair in pigtail braids but at least made sure my helmet blinkie light wasn't on before I went inside to speak with the officers.

Inside I saw the small girl and her father, whose mother and wife was one of the people arrested. The girl had a blue sucker to distract her and there was sticky blueness spilling past her lips and onto her face. I introduced myself to the man and offered my attorney services, which he agreed to accept. He didn't know anything because he said the officers weren't talking to him.

After getting absolutely nowhere with the first officer I spoke with, I was able to speak with the Desk Sargent. She explained that the investigation was ongoing and therefore she didn't know what the charges were. She suggested that I come back in an hour. I bitched a little and demanded to know what they were arrested for. Again, she said she didn't know and wouldn't know until the end of the investigation. I called her bullshit and reminded her that the police station was unauthorized to hold them if they had not been arrested. I told her that I wanted to see my clients and forbade her officers from questioning them until I had spoken with them. She left the desk to find out more information. Seconds later, at 8:10pm I heard the following quote from a male voice in the back of the station:

"I'm making something up. I don't care what. I want these people to go to jail."

The Desk Sargent came back and told me that they were arrested for Mob Action. She demanded to see my ID, which I produced and she scrutinized for far too long. I went back outside to inform the group, after telling the husband of the arrested woman.

Less than five minutes later the Watch Commander came outside to speak with us. He said that he was just alerted to the situation and that shortly the arrestees would be released with traffic citations. He estimated that it would take less than fifteen minutes for the paperwork to be processed. He was very nice and civil. He told me to invite anyone to come inside the station where it was warm.

While we were waiting for their release, the original news reporter showed up. She offered us all of the video footage that she her cameraman had of the memorial/arrest. Payton and I answered several of her questions about the ride (which she called the Happy Friday was so adorable that we couldn't correct her). She was pretty upset about the police behavior and the arrests. We explained that the ride is a way to feel safe bicycling and, for some people, a protest against the way we are often endangered on the road.

I told her the too often the police don't take our rights on the road seriously and allow dangerous situations to occur. I told her that the police had the choice to temporarily direct traffic around the Memorial, as they would do in an accident, but instead choose to arrest people, which ended up blocking traffic for much longer. I also questioned whether this many police resources were used when Isai was killed. The driver of the vehicle who lost control of the vehicle that jumped onto the sidewalk to strike and kill Isai has not been charged with anything. I think she understood.

I returned to the station to see the mom released from the custody of the police and into the hugs and kisses of her daughter and husband. Very sweet. The crowd cheered when she emerged outside and cheered when each person was released.

At this point the crowd was feeling good and making plans to contest the tickets and were even speaking of vague police brutality charges that I consider to be meritless (sorry, handcuffs put on by the police are meant to be tighter than the furry ones your lover uses). There were some interesting points addressed though, namely that the citations were issued 1) for blocking Western Avenue and 2) for failure to cease and desist. All of the arrested people were on the sidewalk installing the memorial when they were arrested, and several feet from Western Avenue. The cease and desist charge however will probably be valid, depending on whether/how they were warned to leave. I was tired from the situation and Paul and I left at this point to see the Polkaholics.

I was, and still am, annoyed at the attitude of many of the Critical Mass riders. They truly don't believe that the group was doing anything unlawful and don't really seem to understand that there are myriads of reasons why we could each get citations for many different violations. I want to smack them for not understanding that we are engaging in civil disobedience, which necessarily carries the risk of arrest. Overwhelmingly the Chicago Police are quite good about accepting us and basically leaving us alone, therefore reducing the risk, and swelling our numbers. However, it is only by their grace that there are not more citations issued. I hate it when people seem surprised that when they don't follow the orders specifically directed at them, that they end up in handcuffs. The police don't bluff. They can't because they need to maintain their authority at all times.

I am also disheartened by the people who seemed so excited when I showed up and then even more excited when the Commander came out to inform us that their release would be soon. This quick decision and newfound courtesy was credited to my discussion with the police, which is probably true. Instead of being glad that there was an attorney around to encourage the police to settle the situation quickly and reasonably, the situation makes me sad and angry. I would much prefer that the police act reasonably all the time, not just when individuals are represented. Instead of rejoicing in the flex of legal muscles like the rest of the group I was saddened by the demonstration of influence. Attorneys are expensive, and most people don't have them immediately available, nor could they easily afford our services. For the most part, our services truly benefit those who already have power and resources, at the expense of those who don't. So sure, I was around to help a handful of people have a much more pleasant night, and possibly avoid more serious charges. But in the bigger picture, it sucks that the police can, and will, fuck with you if they think you are powerless.

Moreover, I am disgusted with the police -- there were so many of them there from several different precints. Did they have the right to give people citations? Yes. Were they right to try to move the group on sooner rather than later? Yes. Did they need to arrest people? No. Knowing the purpose of the situation were there other ways they could have dealt with the situation? Yes. As mentioned earlier, they could have used about 1/40th of the personnel and simply directed all Northbound traffic, except buses, around this stretch of street. It would have been a simple solution that didn't involve disturbing a memorial, didn't require arrests or paperwork and wouldn't have taken police away from real crimes. The aggressive, hard-line tactic that they choose was a waste of resources and ended up blocking traffic for much longer than had they just left us alone. I'm not denying that they had the authority to behave this way, but instead disagree with their judgment.

Here is one of the press links:



At 5:37 AM, Blogger George said...

Jo Jo, you did good :-)

I agree with you about CM rides, I don't have any where I live, but if I did.........

I probably wouldn't attend because riders *and* cops can be assholes sometimes.

At 9:29 PM, Anonymous victor said...

i have live in Toronto, but did grad work at UIC for a year. The CM rides i went on were some of my best memories of the city. As far as i remembered the police did not throw their weight around too much. Compared to other "cycling cities" like NY and Toronto, I think they are very reasonable. In Toronto they are following the hardline towards CM that was started in NY. check out this link for some photos

Happy Friday CMers

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Kat2Chances said...

Who are the most powerful people in the justice system?....

If you ever want to change jobs, you'd make a great public defender. You've got the requisite distain for cops (always a good trait). Great job, BTW!!

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Kat2Chances said...

Oops, disdain. You know what I meant, even if I am an idiot- :)

At 2:59 PM, Blogger jojo said...

Thanks for the props. Let's hope this doesn't become a regular thing, though.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger ho'ard said...

I stumbled across this page looking for coverage of the memorial.
Good read.

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

See also,, which has more news links, too.

Great work, Jojo; on the ride, at the station, and here.



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