Crimanimalz Vs. S.M.P.D: Cyclists Respond to Police Harassment

Yesterday approximately 6o cyclists protested police harassment (photos on Flickr & Ridazz) of Santa Monica Critical Mass.  In response to the 14 citations of Santa Monica Critical Mass (SMCM) riders last Friday we, the Crimanimalz, blocked 4 crosswalks for a cumulative period of 40 minutes.  By walking back and forth across crosswalks continuously the Crimanimalz were able to legally create massive traffic jams.  We effectively showed that legal behavior can be outrageously disruptive.  Further, we showed that should the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) continue targeting cyclists on Critical Mass, there will be consequences for traffic in Santa Monica on other days.

Cyclists gone pedestrian walk across Wilshire Blvd, photo by Richie Thomassen

(photo by Richie Thomassen)

About 50 cyclists met at Sawtelle and La Grange, the C.R.A.N.K. MOB meet up, and rode into Santa Monica.  We rode back streets to arrive at 10th and Wilshire, effectively avoiding any unwanted police attention.  We then set down our bikes, and began crossing the crosswalk at the intersection continuously, en masse.  Because there were no gaps in the crossing pedestrians cars could not pass.  Traffic built up rapidly so that it was jammed for 3 blocks in each direction.

Within a few seconds motorists began honking and yelling.  It’s an phenomenon familiar to any cyclist – even a few seconds of perceived delay makes Los Angelest drivers IRATE.  However, SMCM riders are no ordinary pedestrians, and horn honking was greeted by taunting screams and hoots from the crowd of cyclists.  Soon motorists were leaning out the windows yelling that they would call the police.  We yelled back “call the police”, because we were glad that they would register their complaints with police.  We felt that for the protest to be effective, city officials should know who was causing the disruption, and how much ire it was generating.

After five minutes one well dressed motorist got out of his car and said he was taking his pregnant wife to the hospital, and demanded we let him through.  We all agreed, but as the man walked back to his luxury sedan, one participant noticed that there was no one else in his luxury sedan.  Sorry dude, but being rich doesn’t mean we’ll tolerate self serving lies.  The Crimanimalz let him wait.

The Crimanimalz make creative use of a crosswalk in front of City Hall

(photo by Richie Thomassen)

Eventually the police showed up, perhaps 15 minutes later.  We stopped walking the crosswalks, and moved everyone to the south side of the street.  We then split up into five groups, to make it more difficult for the two police cruisers and single motorcycle cop to follow us.  Eventually these groups rendevoused, and we blocked three more crosswalks with the remainder of the night.

It occasionally got ugly.  One motorist got out of his car, to argue with the Crimanimalz, and ended up in a 7 to 1 shouting match.  All night there were spates of ugliness, shouting matches that likely would have come to blows had the group of cyclists had a numerical advantage.  It wasn’t just motorists doing the yelling – at times there was a healthy dose of angry shouting from cyclists.

Vlad hands a motorist a flier

(Photo by Richie Thomassen)

What do you expect?  Santa Monica residents have sicked their police force on cyclists like an angry guard dog.  The city has assigned 14 officers, on an overtime basis, to follow the ride each month, for 14 months.  The SMPD made no effort to contact riders at anytime before or during their 14 month campaign to eliminate the ride.  Officers stand apart at the ride, refuse to talk to riders and train spotlights and video cameras on their faces.

Worse, Santa Monica officials have acted in bad faith toward cyclists.  When SMCM participants met with police, they got lectures on law and order, rather than a genuine discussion of other options.  Sgt Larry Horn, in two seperate meetings, suggested that the hundreds strong ride “take a nice ride on the beach bike path.”  The same bike path where SMPD refuses to enforce the “bikes only” inscriptions that occur every 500 feet.

When the City Manager asked Chief of Police Tim Jackman to meet with SMCM riders in September, Jackman scheduled a meeting.  When activists arrived, he stepped in for 30 seconds, introduced himself, and returned to his office – skipping the meeting.  Activists instead met with Captain Mark Smiley, and suggested that SMCM riders might be receptive to a police escort, as is done on San Francisco Critical Mass.  Smiley replied that “I couldn’t do something like that without authorization from the City Manager or the Chief (of Police.)  Oh, you mean the Chief of Police who is skipping the meeting?  That guy?

Even Santa Monica City Council has gotten in on the “let’s diss the cyclists” game.  When 50 cyclists attended a council meeting in November in support of SMCM, council members promised to investigate means of accomodation for the ride.  The result?  Council never approached one activist – not one – about the issue, and they produced nothing.

SMPD traffic officers clearly took the cue from their superiors.  For example, while issuing over 30 tickets for “no light” violations, officers repeatedly checked the box “this is not a correctable violation.”  However, every “no light” violation for a cyclist is a correctable violation in California, as the California Highway Patrol has pointed out numerous times to riders who go to pay these violation.  Once a rider demonstrates that they have a corrected the violation by equipping a light, the fine drops from over $100 to just $10.  By misleading cited cyclists SMPD has improved their revenue stream and cost riders thousands of dollars more than is legally justified.

Santa Monica’s leadership has treated SMCM riders exactly as one would expect a gated community might – a problem to be dealt with.  In doing so they correctly assumed that we are a group with little ability to hurt them politically.  However, what they ignored is that it is not law enforcement which maintains law and order in a city.  It is not law enforcement which helps shovel obscene numbers of motorists in and out of Santa Monica on Friday night.

It’s the citizens.  When all citizens choose to work together people may go about their activities as smoothly as congestion will allow.  It is the cooperative efforts of citizens that reduce massive traffic snarls.  However, it is only with the collaboration of citizens that law enforcement is able to acheive their goals.  When Santa Monica city officials decided that SMCM was a bug to be smashed without consideration they effectively said to it’s participants “your concerns, your role, they are insignificant.”  They ignored the fact that SMCM is only as disruptive as any other mass of traffic, or even less so.

This is Santa Monica’s reminder.  If we are to be painted as disruptive, then we shall act so.  If we are to be treated as insignificant, then we will show that we are not.  Actions like this will continue to occur, at unpredictable times, using unpredictable means, until the Santa Monica Police Department quits ticketing Santa Monica Critical Mass.

Alex Thompson

Bikerowave co-founder, Cyclists' Bill of Rights co-author, President of Bikeside, and Math Phd. HULK SMASH straight from Michigan!

26 thoughts on “Crimanimalz Vs. S.M.P.D: Cyclists Respond to Police Harassment

  1. As an avid bicyclist and motorcycle rider (and yes, I have a car too), I condone this behavior as juvenile and dangerous. This is the worst way to get any attention. The only way for cars to respect bikes is to follow the law, and if you get in a scuffle, report it FIRST. Those 50 bikers that blocked traffic make it worse for ME when I bike to work. They also are the vocal minority, which unfortunately in this country causes some of the most ill-informed decisions, even though they might have good intentions.

  2. Cyclists should choose better battles to fight. It’s hard to imagine what will be gained by alienating the driving public.

  3. Be realistic Nick. Have you ever reported an traffic offence/crime commited against you and had the police take your side or help you out? I’m 0 for 2 so far, hope you’ve had better luck.

  4. I agree that cyclists need protection and help. If this is the way that you go about it – targeting people who had nothing to do with the SMPD’s asshattery – and harassing them in-kind, messing up their day?

    You just lost one supporter. We all know that the SMPD are a bunch of clowns – guess the “crankmob” is as well. Bummer – I expected better.

  5. drew, i don’t think the group was “targeting” those motorists. they, unfortunately, were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    i think the demonstration is an interesting tactic to mobilize a group of people who been made to feel like their voice nor concerns don’t matter.

    i’d like to see more of these events, coupled with tactics that use positive means to stimulate dialogue.

  6. >> Have you ever reported an traffic offence/crime commited against you and had the police take your side or help you out? I’m 0 for 2 so far, hope you’ve had better luck. <<

    Actually, yes. I got hooked by a car on Main St. and the cops came and wrote an incident report, which included the officer’s (correct) judgment that the motorist was at fault.

    Aside from SMCM, the few interactions I’ve had with SMPD officers have actually been pretty cordial. They are not dicks in a one-on-one context. Its dealing with a big group that flips the cop brain into attack mode.

  7. @ Nick and Drew

    It is the NIMBYist, most wealthy residents of Santa Monica who are pressing SMPD to hassle SMCM. Therefore it is they who will be delayed.

    Nick, you say that we are a vocal minority. You are correct. Where are you, vocalizing, agitating for change? Simply because we are a minority does not mean our desires or needs are insignificant or unworthy of consideration. SMPD and the City have left us without options, so this is one of our last. We declare that we are significant, and that the City of Santa Monica must take us seriously. We add emphasis to that by demonstrating our significance.

    Drew – you say I’ve lost a supporter. What did you do to support us? In what way did you help SMCM? Did you just read articles about the harassment and then say “right on”? Did you write articles or ride on the rides?

    I ask because in the calculus of this political battle it seems that SMCM has little to lose. Our silent supporters within the city were doing nothing for us. The public sentiment in our favor wasn’t yielding results. SMPD neither knows nor cares for these things. So, we endeavor to attack the public perception that they can do what they say they can do – keep the peace – keep traffic moving. The reality is they cannot, and it is only with the cooperation and consent of 99.99% of citizens that they can represent themselves as doing so.

  8. Awesome!!! I love it! People power rules!

    It seems bizarre to me anyways why people would need to get into a box, surrounded by so much metal only to haul themselves and a bunch of air. Hmm. They pay a lot of money for that metal box only to protect themselves from the other metal boxes. And they pay a lot of money to carry all that air that the metal box pollutes.

    The video that brad pitt posted was also super awesome! When is the next one? I’ll try to be there!

  9. The SMPD seams to think they can do what they want w/o having to answer for it, I happen to know it for a fact, I have been taping them stepping all over peoples civil and human rights. And when I try to report it to their Watch-commanders they wont even take my formal complaint.
    The only thing they (SMPD) understand is money so file your claims to City Hall let them turn it down (standard) file your lawsuit as I did. Then they have to listen to you….
    PS I need a attorney
    Randy Zasloff

  10. While the protest was creative, pitting bicyclists against cars is the wrong approach, it hasn’t worked in any city, EVER! What does work is when bicyclists drop the sub culture thing and bring it to mass culture. Figure out ways to get moms and dads onto bikes, stop at red lights and obey traffic laws. This has worked extremely well in Portland, where I enjoy very relaxed bike riding and respect from drivers because I don’t cut in and out of traffic and obey the rules of the road. I’m originally from New York, participated in many, many criticlal mass rides. At the time, I mistook the adrenaline rush for actual social movement, those riders deepest into the bike punk scene helped criminalize the ride and then that’s all it became, a way to antagonize police. Don’t get me wrong, police are generally 100% wrong when they ticket bicyclists as noted in this article, but in terms of a growing acceptance of bicycling as a normal form of transportation, it makes it WORSE, not BETTER.

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