Steady police harrassment hasn’t discouraged a hardy band of several hundred cyclists from riding together the last Friday of every month since the so-called "bike riot" of last July. In fact, a police riot at Market and Powell that night was hidden by the media hysteria created when over a hundred innocent bicyclists were illegally arrested in the Financial District at the end of the night. Not one cyclist was tried or convicted of any crimes stemming from this night which the news media falsely portrayed as bicyclist-inspired mayhem. Not only were there half as many arrests as newspapers claimed (barely over 100, not the 250 trumpeted in headlines), but all charges were dropped. Police still have not returned confiscated cameras and film which prove that the main violence that night was carried out by police.

Bicyclists responded to violent police tactics in the following months with a creative fragmentation in which dozens of groups roamed through the streets of the city, ridiculing the enforced obedience to traffic lights in the style of the strict rule-following goof-up, the Good Soldier Schwiek.

Thousands of bogus tickets and an ongoing campaign of selective enforcement by police against Critical Mass and cyclists in general since then have only wasted public money. All tickets issued to bicyclists during this time have been dismissed when cyclists showed up to fight them. Rank and file officers have endured humiliating verbal assaults from angry bicyclists during ticket writing at Critical Mass, disturbing them enough that their commanders saw fit to replace them with more aggressive and impersonal riot police after their discomfort became particularly acute during the February ride.

The police department under the spiteful management of Lt. Dennis Martel has been manipulated into carrying out a petulant, petty political campaign for the embarrassed Mayor, who can't forget how cyclists jeered and booed him out of Pee Wee Herman Plaza last July. The Mayor’s much-touted skills at getting things done have remained impotent in the face of daily gridlock and a crippled public transit system. It seems its easier to scapegoat bicyclists for the intractable problems imposed on our city by too many cars, than it is to begin the inevitable shift away from the auto/oil/asphalt domination that rules us today.The roads are terrible, clogged with private cars. Urban streets and neighborhoods are designed to maximize shopping opportunities, accessed by automobile. MUNI remains a horrible, inefficient joke, while basic safety conditions for cycling have only worsened since much-publicized plans for improved bike routes were announced. Public space is more constricted and reduced than ever. Where we can gather without the incessant clamor of the market, surrounded by the toxic fumes of the automobile?

Choices about the physical environment in San Francisco are being made behind closed doors. Wild, huge building projects are being planned and executed all over town, from the malls large and small popping up from the Mission to Mint Hill, to the mysterious futures awaiting the Presidio, Treasure Island, Mission Bay and Hunters' Point. Mayor Brown's attack on bicyclists last summer may well have been a calculated move to fill the news with an easy scapegoat while his plans and business pals carry out the largest land grab in San Francisco’s already seedy, greedy history. Meanwhile, we continue to suffer under a vision-less myopia which refuses to comprehensively plan for a long-term shift in transit infrastructure away from cars and towards more and better transit, bicycling and pedestrian options.

Cycling together in Critical Mass threatens the shaky edifice of municipal corruption and corporate self-confidence. When we ride to work we refuse the costs of their transportation nightmare, and open a tiny crack of personal autonomy. When we gather in Critical Mass, the assumptions and values of the dominant culture are challenged implicitly if not explicitly. Moreover, we’re enjoying ourselves, making new friends, and seeing our beautiful city in a whole new way, while they are stuck fuming in their impotent cars.

Join one of dozens of "mini-masses" as we weave around and across each other on the last Friday of month. Find your friends, old and new, and make Critical Mass a vibrant, passionate affirmation of a world worth living in, sociable, ecological, and friendly. Our monthly occupation of city streets is a firm rebuttal to the small-minded, petty harrassment the Mayor and the police have plagued us with in their vain attempt to "shut down" Critical Mass. And it is a haunting reminder to the powers-that-be that we won’t be so easily fooled or ignored. Some of us know what their game is — lining the pockets of speculators and developers at the expense of the quality of our lives here is a short-term strategy guaranteed to fail spectacularly.

Get on your bike on the last Friday of the month and join your fellow cyclists to fill the streets of San Francisco. See you at Justin "Pee Wee" Herman Plaza at the foot of Market Street (April 24, May 29, June 26, etc.).

April 1998

Return to Index