Cops Who Confiscated Bikes Carried Out ‘Racist Policy’ — And Don’t Even Know the Law They Cited

An NYPD lieutenant tells kids why some of them got tickets for not having bells. Photo: Terry Barentsen via YouTube.
An NYPD lieutenant tells kids why some of them got tickets for not having bells. Photo: Terry Barentsen via YouTube.

The cops who confiscated bikes and harassed kids for not having bells were carrying out “misplaced priorities and racist policies” of the de Blasio administration — and, worse, didn’t even follow the law when they did it, advocates said in a second day of criticism of Saturday’s mass NYPD operation.

Transportation Alternatives’ Co-Deputy Director Marco Conner led the charge on Tuesday, issuing a strong statement that called Saturday’s coordinated harassment of cyclists of color in Tompkins Square Park and Union Square “just the latest example of Mayor de Blasio permitting and directing the NYPD to harass to cyclists of color. It’s a nouveau-Broken Windows style of policing under the guise of Vision Zero.”

“If Mayor de Blasio is committed to Vision Zero, as well as the idea that New York is a true sanctuary city and ‘the fairest big city in America,’ the harassment of cyclists of color, and the NYPD’s failure to employ data-driven enforcement, has to end immediately,” he said. “Enabling a racist policy is inexcusable.”

De Blasio had said on Monday that he did not know about the dozens of cops who swarmed Tompkins Square on Saturday, where riders were gathering for the sixth annual “Race and Bake” bike event. Before the event, cops arrested the race’s organizer, Shardy Nieves, on a four-year-old open container warrant that was immediately dismissed by a Bronx judge. The cops had shown Nieves pages from his social media account, and indicated that they had stalked him to the event. While there, cops also decided to confiscate kids’ bikes for not having bells on them. Officers later did the same thing at Union Square.

The policy was not only questionable, but it was wrong, said lawyer Steve Vaccaro. When their bikes were confiscated, the cyclists were merely sitting in the park — not riding, as required in the state’s VTL 1236, which states, “No person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least 100 feet.”

“Operate” is the key word, said Vaccaro.

“It occurred on sidewalk, they weren’t riding, and my god it’s a bell. And they were offering to repair the violation apparently,” he said. “Cops don’t know anything about the law concerning cyclists.”

Participant Marc Nieves, who is not related to the event organizer, confirmed that cops confiscated bell-less bikes that were not being ridden.

“As soon as we got there [around 1 p.m.], we all sat on our bikes and the cops … told us they didn’t have bells so they were gonna give us summons,” said the 21-year old. “We didn’t get our bikes back to almost 6 p.m.”

The law is administered arbitrarily — in this case, cops swarmed the park under the impression that the ride was linked to marijuana use. In the end, cops only wrote tickets for a lack of bells, not drugs.

Bike advocate Courtney Williams saw the cops’ “no-bell prize” as pretext.

“It blows my mind and disheartens my soul that, especially in this era of an apparent rise in fascism, our own government chooses to sell us on the suppression of our right to assemble with bikes, work on bikes, or protest about fairness on bikes, by justifying a level of surveillance and seizure more fitting of drug kingpins or human traffickers,” said Williams, chief strategist of The Brown Bike Girl Bicycle Advocacy Consulting.

Cops have shown they can ignore something if and when they want to — their boss, hypocrite Commissioner O’Neill, has been spotted many times smiling atop his own bike with no bell in sight, Gothamist first reported. O’Neill often boasts of his cycling, but fails to criticize members of his rank and file who post insensitive tweets such as one earlier this year reminding drivers not to hit cyclists, “love ’em or hate ’em.” And he complies with the de Blasio administration crackdown on e-bike-riding delivery workers — even as the NYPD brass enjoy hot lunches because of them.

And neither de Blasio nor O’Neill has cracked down on reckless police drivers, which Streetsblog exposed in a monthlong investigation.

The targeted enforcement over the weekend was just the latest in a string of crackdowns against cyclists and a marginalized community. Under Mayor de Blasio, protection of cyclists by the city Department of Transportation and crackdowns against them have gone hand in hand. The mayor boasts of building scores of miles of protected bike lanes, but he is also engaged in a years-long enforcement effort against mostly immigrant bike-riding delivery workers who the mayor believes are unsafe, despite city statistics showing that they are not.

Police consistently focus on cyclists after a rider is killed or maimed in a crash with a driver. Over the winter, cops went on a ticket blitz against people who get around by bike after 72-year-old Chaim Joseph was struck and killed on Eighth Avenue near 45th Street in Manhattan on Feb. 4 — an officer days later issued a biker a summons for not wearing a helmet, which is not against the law. And another cop tackled a cyclist to stop him for riding outside a blocked bike lane — which later led to a massive rally outside the Midtown North stationhouse. Mayor de Blasio said he didn’t know about those incidents, as well.

Harassment of cyclists pre-dates de Blasio, of course. In 2004, the NYPD cracked down on a Critical Mass ride timed to the Republican National Convention. And in 2011, Streetsblog reported that the NYPD used so-called cheat sheets to assist officers in launching a bike ticketing blitz. But the document contained several bogus violations that don’t even apply in the city.

NYPD spokeswoman Detective Denise Moroney had said on Monday that officers were assigned to the park ahead of Nieves’s event, which police claim was “advertising smoking marijuana and traveling on New York City roadways to various locations.” The agency has declined to answer any questions since.

Mayor de Blasio did not take questions on Tuesday and has no public schedule on Wednesday. City Hall has not responded to a request for information or a response to TransAlt’s statement.


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