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Sacramento Critical Mass Experiences Police Repression


Date of Incident:
Received: This is a compilation regarding August 3, 2001 ride.


 * Open letter to Mayor, City Council, and others

RE: Please Support Positive Community Events
Mayor Fargo and City Council:
I am writing with regards to a wonderful opportunity for the City of
Sacramento, which I fear may be lost without prompt attention.
A group of concerned citizens has taken the initiative to create a monthly
community event which promotes clean air, good health and exercise, and
efficient, sustainable use of our precious resources.  This type of event
has already been successful all over the world in hundreds of cities, and
has proven itself to be a highly effective catalyst for enhancing and
strengthening community.
Unfortunately, this event has gotten off on the wrong foot in Sacramento
and needs your help to flourish and reach its full potential.  
The event of which I speak is the monthly bicycle ride commonly known as
"Sacramento Critical Mass".  The term "critical mass" is here most
appropriately defined as "the minimum number needed for change to begin".
As Sacramento faces an ever worsening traffic situation, and residents of
the inner core and suburbs alike begin to clamor for more hospitable
streets and alternative transportation options, an event such as Critical
Mass needs to be embraced and nurtured.  No one can deny that bicycling
has tremendous promise to help our society out of our current predicament.  
And no one can deny that there are many perils and pitfalls in Sacramento
which are discouraging more widespread enjoyment of this lifesaving mode.  
Critical Mass can help bring bicycling into the mainstream.  These events
help build community, lending vital support and fostering friendships
where they otherwise would not occur.  They help bicyclists feel that they
are not alone, but rather part of a rich and vibrant community.
I truly believe, speaking from my almost nine years of experience with
Critical Mass events, that any City which truly wishes to create safer
streets, a healthier citizenry, and in general, to encourage bicycling as
a valid mode of transport, will embrace and nurture its Critical Mass
rides wherever it is fortunate enough for them to appear.
Unfortunately, several factors have been conspiring to discard that
potential before it may be realized.  One, admittedly, is a certain lack
of comprehensive organization which these first few events have displayed,
which is understandable -- and after all, it's "just a bike ride".  A yet
more serious jeopardizing factor, one which you and few others may have a
direct influence upon, is the hostile reception which these most
fortuitous rides have been given by the Sacramento Police Department.
From what I have been told and seen for my own eyes, to my knowledge the
ridership in Sacramento has done nothing to deserve the treatment they
have received, and innocent people have been made to suffer including a
mother of two children.  I will, however, speak only to my immediate
This month, on Friday, August 3, 2001, I participated in my first such
ride in Sacramento.  I was astounded and appalled at the treatment this
small group (barely more than 20 riders) received from police, even as we
stopped for red lights and occupied only the right-hand lane.  Police
hounded us and issued citations for the smallest of imagined infractions.  
A simple reading of the law indicates that all of the citations I am aware
of were in fact false citations.  I myself received two citations for not
riding in the bicycle lane -- on hostile one-way streets which in fact, do
not have any bicycle lanes at all!  Clearly the charge is therefore
inapplicable.  I was followed by a Sergeant and repeatedly cited, and was
warned that if I "was cited again" I would be "going to jail".  As I was
sure I had committed no violation of the vehicle code up to that point, I
could only take this threat to mean that the police were prohibiting me
from riding my bicycle safely and legally in the City of Sacramento.  I
was forced to walk or run from place to place.
I was disturbed that the police refused to accept a letter regarding the
rights of bicyclists to peacefully ride together.  The letter was
repeatedly referred to by police as "propaganda", leaving one to wonder if
the Sergeant has renounced democratic process and citizen's rights to
participation and redress.
Furthermore, the discrimination against our most peaceful and helpful mode
was glaringly apparent, as the daily -- and quite deadly -- Critical Mass
of motorcars went unchecked by these droves of your officers.
In one case, as I was traveling with a small group, single-file in a
bicycle lane, a motorist opened his car door in our path.  I pointed this
out to the Sergeant and his response was to threaten to give me a
citation.  He then made a second quick u-turn in a no-passing zone and
followed me aggressively, and then cited me.  Being struck by an open car
door is one of the most common and serious types of collisions which a
bicyclist can suffer.  It is often disabling and sometimes fatal.  To say
that this officer was insensitive would be quite an understatement.
In a second example of discrimination, a motorist turned the wrong way
onto one of Sacramento's menacing one-way streets, directly into oncoming
traffic -- which included two motorcycle officers.  These officers did not
cite the driver, but threatened to cite me when I attempted to ascertain
their identities (which they consistently would not supply). These same
officers not only cited bicyclists throughout the evening (including those
not on the ride), but they were reportedly driving dangerously through the
interior of a shopping mall in order to follow a small handfull of riders
who were walking their bicycles.
That there were only twenty riders attests to the fact that police have
been using these types of harsh tactics, with the predictable effect of
attrition.  Earlier rides enjoyed much higher ridership and certainly had
the potential to continue to grow and evolve.
Where the opportunity existed on a Friday evening to allow our fair
Capitol city's bicyclists a brief respite and a safe, comfortable haven
from the mean streets that they would normally face, your police force has
chosen to ensure that no feelings of safety will be possible for them on
our public thoroughfares.  It is in everyone's interests for the public to
feel safe and accepted while bicycling, and for the Sacramento Critical
Mass bicycle ride to become a large and inclusive community event which
will help to save lives even as it enriches them.
I am confident that the current situation can and will change, but I call
upon you all to use the powers of your office to help expedite this
process.  I would be happy to share my experience and ideas with you.
I hope that your office will be available to meet with community members
on Monday, August 27, 2001.  We look forward to speaking with you or
members of your staff.  And I invite you to join us on foot or on bicycle
at the next Sacramento Critical Mass event, which shall be gathering for a
rally -- appropriately enough -- at the front steps of the State Capitol
on September 7, 2001.  Please join other elected officials in supporting a
healthier Sacramento and a healthier state.  What happens to bicyclists in
our Capitol City reflects on the conditions of all California.  I hope
that you can help our State usher in a new day of tolerance and
encouragement of alternative transportation by supporting this peaceful
and positive community event.
Jason Meggs, Director
Bicycle Civil Liberties Union
Email: jmeggs-AT-bclu.org
Work: (510) 643-6768
Pager (510) 720-2818
CC:  City Manager
     City Attorney
     Office of Police Accountability
     Planning Department
     Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates (SABA)

Here is some correspondence to the local advocacy group, SABA (one member of listserv responding -- SABA has no position on Critical Mass): ---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 15:49:08 -0700 From: Brian Lavender To: Jason Meggs Cc: saba-AT-topica.com Subject: Re: Sacramento Police Abuse Legal Bicycle Ride On Sun, Aug 05, 2001 at 01:49:39AM -0700, Jason Meggs wrote: > Fellow advocates, > > I was very unhappy to suffer two false citations Friday, August 3, 2001, > in downtown Sacramento. I was with a small group of 20 cyclists riding > legally in the monthly "Critical Mass" ride. I have been participating in > monthly Critical Mass rides in Berkeley, San Francisco and elsewhere for > over 8 years now and the treatment we received in Sacramento was uniquely > intolerant and unjust. > > I was literally cited twice, for crimes I did not commit, and threatened > to be arrested if I was cited again. Considering that I was being > followed by Sergeant Gravert everywhere I went, arrest seemed imminent. > Therefore I was essentially ordered not to bicycle safely and legally in > Sacramento and was forced to run or walk wherever I travelled. > > As this occurred in our capitol, I must assume this ill treatment is > related to how poorly our state ranks for bicycle and pedestrian issues. > > I'm looking for whoever cares about their fellow cyclists' right to use > our public roadways, as well as our first amendment rights, to help in a > campaign to stop these abuses and improve the education and sensitivity of > the Sacramento Police. Sometimes it requires being arrested. I think the case of Rosa Parks would be a good idea of how the situation might transpire, and what conditions you would want in place, before you put yourself in such a position. Here are some url's I found relating to Rosa Parks. http://www.grandtimes.com/rosa.html http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/par0pro-1 http://www.leap.yale.edu/lclc/town/stand/rosa.html brian

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