Video of Critical Mass arrests

by Jim Smith
L.A. Labor News

(as told by Adam Schell, who rode and was arrested)

Evening of Aug. 14:

Schell attends the Shadow Convention at Patriotic Hall. While there, he notices an announcement of tomorrow’s Critical Mass ride in the L.A. Weekly. He had never been on a Critical Mass ride before, but believes in their advocacy of bike riding as an alternative to smog-belching automobiles that clog our streets and freeways.

August 15

5:30 pm: About 150 cyclists assemble at 5th and Flower. There are also about 30 bike cops nearby. They were “really mellow,” says Schell.

5:30 - 6:10 pm: The riders cruise through downtown streets with the cops usually riding behind them. The 150 riders grew to more than 200 as more bike riders see the procession and join them (including bike messengers).
Schell says at least 25 percent of the riders had no idea what Critical Mass was, including one visitor from Holland who was on a bike and joined in.

There was very little auto traffic downtown because of the convention and the protests, but from time to time, the bike cops waved the riders through intersections. At other times, some of the cyclists acted as traffic guards at intersections while the procession passed.

6:10 pm: The Critical Mass riders approach 19th and Flower. Suddenly a large group of California Highway Patrol motorcycle cops appear and “herd” the bikes to a Santa Monica Freeway underpass where LAPD riot police are waiting. About two-thirds of the cyclists see the trap and escape. Schell and 69 other cyclists are not so lucky. Some of the “mellow” bike cops are now taking their batons out and approaching the cornered cyclists. A police captain has to restrain them.

6:15 pm: Schell is one of 70 riders who is arrested and handcuffed. No cease or disperse order had been given prior to the sudden arrests. None of the ever-present cops had warned them to break it up or told them that they were doing anything illegal.

6:15 - 11:30 pm: All 70 cyclists are kept handcuffed at the arrest scene for five hours.

11:30 pm: They are taken by bus to the county jail. Two journalists - from the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune - identify themselves and are released at their booking.

August 16

3:30 am:
Schell is fingerprinted, photographed and relieved of his personal property. He finishes the booking process and is taken to his cell.

7:30 am: Jail clothes (blues) are issued.

8:30 am: Schell and the others are taken to an arraignment room where they are kept for 12 hours. It is a small, hot room with no windows. Repeated requests by prisoners to use a phone are denied.

Art Goldberg, an attorney and legal observer, is allowed in to talk with them. He gets names and numbers and calls their parents and loved ones after he leaves.

Just before their arraignment they are allow to see a public defender. Schell says she tried to do her best, but was overwhelmed with the volume of cases.

In the courtroom there are four prosecutors up against their lone public defender. Schell is arraigned and begins the long process of release from custody. He is again fingerprinted.

5:30 - 8:30 pm: Processing out continues for most of the cyclists. Schell is among the first to walk out of jail, a “free” man.

The 17 women who were among those arrested did not have it so easy. They were subjected to body cavity strip searches twice. They were told to “bend over, spread their vaginas and cough.” The women were taken the long way around to their cells and were “paraded” before male inmates on the way.

The arrests and treatment of the bike riders was a gross example of police overreaction and misconduct. The Critical Mass arrests were the largest single group of arrests during the convention protests. Most cyclists were charged with “reckless driving,” for which a citation is usually issued. Not one of the 70 who was arrested had a prior criminal record, says Schell.

Critical Mass has been having monthly bike rides around Los Angeles for several years now and has never had trouble with the police before. Of course, Adam Schell and 64 of the other cyclists who were arrested wouldn’t know that from first hand experience since none of them had ever been on a Critical Mass ride before. But they did have many hours to sit and talk with the five who had ridden on one.

Schell is out on bail now but his bike is still in jail. It will be held as evidence until his court date on Sept. 1. The final insult was when the judge most likely violated the cyclists constitutional rights by ordering all of them, including the bike messengers, not to ride a bike before the trial or “they would be rearrested.”