Sacramento Critical Mass report
- Fellow bicyclists:
On its second anniverary ride, May 2, 2003, large numbers of police
followed small groups of bicyclists throughout the City of Sacramento
during the latest attempt at a Critical Mass community bicycle ride there.
The bicyclists tried an interesting experiment of dispersing in
different directions. The police, believe it or not, followed even
individual bicyclists, frequently outnumbering them! I was followed while
walking my bicycle, as I dared not ride an inch with so many police
How do others feel about this outrageous harassment?
Below is an email I've just sent to a public email list for Sacramento
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 5 May 2003 23:10:56 -0400 (EDT)
From: Jason Meggs <jmeggs@...>
Subject: [sacramentomass] Hey Sacramento Critical Mass!
[THIS IS A PUBLIC LIST. FEEL FREE TO REPLY PRIVATELY]
I am writing to find out what people's individual experiences were during
the last Sacramento Critical Mass ride.
Last Friday's ride was the second anniversary of the latest Critical Mass
effort in Sacramento (as far as I know!). Earlier masses (as early as
1993) were reportedly put out of existence by police harassment, even
though there were hundreds of riders at one point. Speaking as someone
who was followed during last Friday's ride by multiple squad cars and
about five bicycle cops (and probably more police than I could see or
identify, but with no helicopter detectable) even as I *WALKED* on the
sidewalk, at times alone or with just a few other cyclists, it's not hard
for me to understand that this could be true. From past experience I knew
it was not safe for me to ride an inch while being followed by those
It's a terrible thing when the government chooses to break its own laws
for the overt purpose of suppressing its citizens from even the most
peaceful and well-intended acts such as bicycling. Those of you who
continue to assert your right to ride a bicycle in California's capitol
city, Sacramento, are truly brave and have my utmost respect.
I have heard rumors that some number of participants were cited, and I
happened to witness the tail end of one scene where one woman was taken
away in handcuffs and another was cited and released.
* WAS ANYONE ELSE CITED OR ARRESTED?
* DOES ANYONE WISH TO FILE COMPLAINTS WITH THE CITY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE?
* IS ANYONE CALLING A MEETING TO DISCUSS WAYS OF STOPPING THIS ABUSE?
A recent News and Review article, with two photos, discussed the events of
the March ride where a young mother was violently arrested and injured,
reportedly for asking a question.
You can find that and many more past stories, links, and other information
public Sacramento Critical Mass email list at a website BCLU maintains:
Bicycle Civil Liberties Union
P.O. Box 15071
Berkeley, CA 94712-6071
Phone: (510) 816-BIKE
P.S. Some news articles from a year ago, still rather relevant:
By Matthew Barrows -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Wednesday, June 5, 2002
SACRAMENTO -- A group of area wants $11 million and an apology from
Sacramento police for what they say is a policy of harassing cyclists at
A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court alleges police have targeted the
first-Friday-of-the-month Critical Mass rides by confiscating bicycles,
issuing false citations and using excessive force.
"The riders violated no laws, engaged in no illegal activities and harmed
no one, but the police harass them like they were a criminal
enterprise," said Berkeley-based attorney Larry Hildes, who represents the
Police have said tickets and arrests have come after bikers taunted and
swerved in front of motorists. Tickets have been issued for obstructing
traffic, running red lights and excessive noise.
The Critical Mass rides, which began in May 2001, start at the Capitol and
usually wind through downtown and midtown. Riders said say the goal is to
show biking is a cleaner, healthier alternative to motor vehicles.
>From the Sacramento Bee, Monday, October 29, 2001http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/1085995p-1149157c.html
Back-Seat Driver: Bicyclists unite to remove their
cloak of invisibility
By Matthew Barrows Bee Staff Writer (Published
Oct. 29, 2001)
About a month ago, the Back-seat Driver shelled
out $100 for a used road bike -- a real bargain
considering its special powers. You see, the bike
Skeptical? Just ask the woman in the silver
Volkswagen who was stopped at an intersection on
H Street the other day. She pulled out in front of
me as if I wasn't even there.
Still not convinced? Talk to the guy in the
red Honda. He parked his car on 21st Street and
opened the door at the exact moment I was pedaling
past. Obviously, he couldn't see me.
Homeowners pile leaves in the bike lanes; garbage
collectors leave massive green bins; and some of
the laziest parallel parkers on the planet leave
their fenders jutting out so far it's impossible
to stay in the lane.
It's as if my bike, and others like it, doesn't
Other area bicyclists, who express similar
concerns, have taken to the streets to raise public
awareness. Tired of being shoved around and ignored
by motorists, the group has organized a ride called
Critical Mass that gathers on the first Friday of
the month for its own show of force.
The theory is that if enough bikers ride together,
the balance of power on the roadway shifts, and
the cyclists' message -- a cleaner, healthier way
to get around -- is thrust into the public eye.
One group in particular has been sitting up and
taking notice -- the police.
At the September event, for example, Sacramento
police issued 12 tickets with one arrest.
The rides have attracted 25 to 60 riders who
pedal en masse through downtown and midtown
Sacramento. Rides usually begin on the north steps
of the Capitol after 5 p.m.
Police officers say there's nothing wrong with
demonstrating, but cyclists who break traffic laws
will not be tolerated. And they say they intend to
But cyclists claim the police have been
heavy-handed, citing riders for infractions as
frivolous as failing to signal 100 feet before
"The idea of holding your arm out for 100 feet while
trying to ride a bicycle is just not reasonable,"
said organizer Jason Meggs.
Meggs said he got a citation for not riding in
the bike lane on J Street, a road that has no bike
lane. Another rider was cited for riding without
a headlight when it wasn't dark.
At the Oct. 5 ride, no fewer than 11 police vehicles
-- including bicycles, squad cars, motorcycles and
a patrol wagon -- trailed the procession. At the
very end, a police helicopter joined the chase for
And what did the police face?
A couple of guys in khaki pants and button-down
shirts could have been trouble, and the biker
leading the pack was a real rough customer: a
5-year-old girl with curly blond hair who was on
a tandem bike with her daddy.
(While not Al Capone, she looked as if she could
throw quite a hissy in Toys R Us.)
The police presence was in reaction to earlier rides
when some cyclists reportedly caused disruptions
by taunting motorists, running red lights and
deliberately swerving in front of traffic. But on
this ride the pack was well-behaved, stopping at
every stop sign and signaling a half a block ahead
of turns, a mocking jab at previous citations.
In the end, no tickets were issued, a first for a
Sacramento Critical Mass event.
The October ride also succeeded at getting
motorists' attention, not so much for the small pack
of cyclists, but for the mass of police vehicles
Visibility, it seems, comes with a price.
>From the Sacramento News and Review,October 18, 2001
By Cosmo Garvin and Matt Raymond
In a marked change from previous Critical Mass bicycle rides (see
"Intimidation with a Smile," Capital Bites, SN&R, September 13; and
"Condition Critical," SN&R, October 4), harmony prevailed between police
and riders during the October 5 event.
Dozens of cyclists move as a slow pack through town on the first Friday of
each month to make a statement for alternative transportation. Sacramento
Police in the past have responded to each Critical Mass by handing out
many traffic tickets. But this month, not a single citation was issued.
"We were very happy with Lieutenant [Jim] Maccoun's much more
conscientious approach," said Jason Meggs, director of the Bicycle Civil
Liberties Union. "To go from [about a dozen citations] last month to zero
citations is ... a great leap forward."
When asked what brought about the change in tactics, Lieutenant Maccoun
said that after speaking with Meggs, it was decided within the Metro Unit
that, "We want them to be able to exercise their First Amendment rights."
Last month's ride was stopped in the first block because one cyclist was
playing a stereo, but the stereo was ignored this month. Maccoun said
police have discretion to not issue citations for violating ordinances
like the city's ban on amplified music.
Maccoun would still like to see Critical Mass apply for a parade permit,
something Meggs has resisted on principle, noting that the clog of cars
during rush hour needs no permit. But both sides seem to be adopting a
less confrontational stance.
Police and riders even chatted amiably together at a park after the ride.
As Meggs put it, "We've developed a trusting relationship."
Here's an earlier article, from October 4, 2001:
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> Condition critical By Matt Raymond
> As alternative transportation advocates take to the
> streets of Sacramento on bicycles again on October
> 5 for the monthly Critical Mass ride, organizers
> hope to avoid contentious clashes with police that
> have characterized the last two monthly rides (see
> "Intimidation with a Smile," Capital Bites, SN&R,
> September 13).
> The ride, which is designed to highlight the
> need to create a transportation system that
> encourages cycling and other non-polluting means
> of transportation, follows a 5:30 p.m. rally at
> the Capitol.
> Event organizer Jason Meggs of the Bicycle Civil
> Liberties Union said the Critical Mass rides in
> Sacramento have developed into a battle over civil
> rights. He said the numerous citations handed out by
> Sacramento Police Department officers on September
> 7 amounts to harassment.
> Meggs' assurance that bicyclists in Critical Mass
> rides always do their best to follow the rules
> of the road is accompanied by a demand that the
> police "do their part by not giving us incredibly
> excessive, intolerant treatment."
> Such attention has included citations for not having
> bike lights ("It was before dark," Meggs said), and
> not riding in the bike lane ("There's no bike lane
> on that street," he counters). While most of the
> citations for the August 3 ride were thrown out of
> court, there are 12 "impeding the flow of traffic"
> citations still pending from the September 7 ride,
> which police don't expect to have thrown out.
> "We don't mind them protesting," Sergeant Daniel
> Hahn insisted, "but bikes are like cars, and if you
> run a red light or block traffic, you'll be cited."
> Police want Critical Mass riders to get a parade
> permit, which would allow officers to control
> traffic along the ride. But Meggs thinks that is
> unfair treatment.
> "When rush hour traffic gets a parade permit,"
> he said, "then they can come and ask us."
> Are bikes like cars? According to the BCLU, that's
> an oversimplification. "How bikes use the streets
> is different from the way cars use them," Meggs
> said. And if they are the same, he wonders why the
> state doesn't give more than the pittance it does
> to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
> "If you design for bikes," he explained, "you're
> designing for a lot of other things," like less
> congestion, less sprawl, less reliance on fossil
> fuels, and healthier citizens.
> Bikes should have as much right to the road as
> cars, he said, and if convincing the Sacramento
> Police Department of that requires filing a police
> harassment lawsuit against the city--something
> Meggs says he's pursuing--so be it.
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- Hi Jason (and all)
> On its second anniverary ride, May 2, 2003, large numbers of policeWhy not just keep together and keep biking? Is biking illegal in Sacramento?
> followed small groups of bicyclists throughout the City of Sacramento
> during the latest attempt at a Critical Mass community bicycle ride there.
> The bicyclists tried an interesting experiment of dispersing in
> different directions. The police, believe it or not, followed even
> individual bicyclists, frequently outnumbering them! I was followed while
> walking my bicycle, as I dared not ride an inch with so many police
> following me.
How were they harassing you?
From both my experiences with Critical Mass in Chicago and SF, the police
are just "escorting" the ride. From what I have noticed in the Chicago
rides, the police just come see the Mass off and then disappear after a few
blocks. I've seen them take copies of proposed maps. Other than one
incident (in one precinct of Chicago) that I have heard about, the Police
are not a problem in general. I have heard of people be ticketed when the
Mass rides on roads that bikes are not permitted (Lake Shore Drive).... This
last mass in Chicago, we had several police (that randomly encountered the
mass) block intersections for us.... IMHO that takes the fun out of it.. =)
I'm sure other CCM "veterans" might have more to say about this than I, as I
have only been on 3-4 CCM rides
- just as a point of fact, it should be noted that in
recent and not-so-recent CM history, massers around
the country have been ticketed, arressted, pepper
sprayed, and hit by police officers. it is true that
these incidents are rare in light of the broad scope
and frequency of CM rides but they should not be over
looked. in so far as dealing with police and thier
various interactions with critical mass there are many
methods, some discussed to death. for me it comes down
to a few simple things:
you can choose to ride within the confines what you
understand to be the law or outside of those confines.
in *either* case you should be prepared to be
potentially hassled, ticketed, and or arrested.
subsequently you can, and in my mind should, contest,
in court, any tickets you feel were undeserved. in
addition any brutality, excessive force or harrassment
by police officers should be reported not just to the
local precincts but to the mayor's office and the
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> From both my experiences with Critical Mass in Chicago and SF, theIn both cities, this followed long battles with the authorities as well as
> police are just "escorting" the ride.
mass arrests (115 in July of 97 in SF, and 27 in September and November of
98 in Chicago).
> I have heard of people be ticketed when the Mass rides on roads thatIn Chicago's case, this followed numerous incursions onto limited access
> bikes are not permitted (Lake Shore Drive)
highways, practically every month, that were more or less tolerated by the
authorities, although looked upon with more and more annoyance. Finally,
the warning was put out that this would no longer be tolerated -- a
warning that was ignored. From my understanding, the ticket on the last
highway incursion was subsequently dropped with the admonition that "we
don't mind you riding on the roads, but we draw the line at the highways."
Keep in mind that the Chicago mass is on par with the SF mass in terms of
Police action varies from town to town. In SF and Chicago, there were
major crackdowns that led to prolonged battles and there now is an
acceptance. In St. Louis, the police generally ignored us, but corked
traffic if they happened to be in the area. In the recent Alameda mass,
police tagged along in cars, on motorbikes, and on bicycles to make sure
everything went OK, as well as having undercover cops on the ride (they
identified themselves after the ride) to get the flavor of the thing and
declared that they were fine with the mass as it was. In Melbourne and
Sydney, cops consider themselves massers and ride along, just in uniform,
participate on the lists, and try to hang back (so they say) to allow the
non-police massers to cork and self police to the extent possible.
Police crackdowns with mass arrests in Portland and Minneapolis/St. Paul
backfired and brought out even more people, pumping numbers to new highs.
In Portland, it even brought out a more aggressive crew than had been
In Sacramento, if the reports are accurate, it appears that a concerted
police presence is being executed to shut down the mass. This had proved
successful with the of the Chicago Art Institute CM (a much more aggro
affair than the current Daley Plaza rides) and other masses that I can't
name at present.
Of course, rides that claim to be CM but are protest rides for one thing
or another are subject to the same problems as other protests, including
police repression, but that is a whole other issue.