NEW YORK - In the first and last trial resulting from the 33 “parading without a permit” arrests the NYPD made on the night of the Halloween Critical Mass bicycle ride, the New York County Supreme Court found The Wall Street Journal’s Senior Art Director, Liz Shura, not guilty of disorderly conduct and parading without a permit yesterday afternoon. Ms. Shura is a member of The Wall Street Journal team that won a Pulitzer Prize for publishing the paper on 9/11 even though the Journal offices had been severely damaged in the terrorist attacks.
Critical Mass bicycle rides occur in over 400 cities across the world. They have occurred on the last Friday of every month in New York City for the past 12 years. Cyclists ride in groups to promote bicycle safety and make bicycle traffic more visible. The rides themselves are a means of saying, “We’re not blocking traffic, we are traffic.” The day before the Halloween ride, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly published an op-ed piece in the Daily News claiming that “extremists had high jacked the rides” prior to August’s Republican National Convention.
The Halloween Critical Mass ride came on the eve of federal Judge William H. Pauley III’s decision in Bray v. City of New York denying the City an emergency injunction that would have prevented the ride from happening. In response to Judge Pauley’s decision that Critical Mass rides were protected by the First Amendment, and that it was unclear whether the City’s parade permitting scheme could apply to them at all, the NYPD proposed a route for the Halloween ride by handing out flyers in Union Square Park prior to the ride’s inception, then diverted cyclists off the route and made mass arrests.
All of the 32 other parading without a permit cases arising from the October arrests were dismissed without going to trial, most upon arraignment, where people took adjournments in contemplation of dismissal. Ms. Shura pleaded not guilty at her arraignment and appeared in court more than five times over the course of eight months because she believed her arrest was false and unconstitutional.
Ms. Shura was represented by Lewis and Gideon Oliver, a father-and-son team of civil rights attorneys. “I am troubled that the District Attorney’s Office is moving forward with these prosecutions, but I remain hopeful that it will redouble its efforts to investigate other, similar cases that remain open, and do the right thing,” said Gideon. Scores of criminal trials arising from the January, February, and March Critical Mass arrests are expected to take place this month. All of those defendants have been offered (and refused) plea bargains because they believe their arrests were unconstitutional.
Ms. Shura’s trial lasted just 30 minutes. The District Attorney’s Office presented testimony from a single witness, her alleged arresting officer, who had sworn in writing that he had personally observed Ms. Shura “riding her bicycle in unison with 100 other cyclists” and blocking cars behind her. Ms. Shura was ordered to join a group of female arrestees to make a quota while walking her bicycle in an attempt to leave the ride, and then charged and prosecuted based on the “personal observations” of a police officer she saw for the first time after she was handcuffed. At the trial, the arresting officer admitted that he was assigned to block the intersection of 11th Street and 7th Avenues along with a team of 19 other NYPD officers on scooters; that he saw a group of cyclists come down the street toward the blockade; and that he was later directed to process the arrests of 3 females.
In the past 6 weeks, 4 cyclists have been run over and killed by motor vehicles. The NYPD has ruled all 4 deaths accidental and declined to issue summonses to any of the drivers involved. Yet over 525 people have been arrested for allegedly participating in the leaderless group bicycle rides since just before the RNC, when the City decided to crack down on the rides. Some other cities, like Moscow, have followed the NYPD’s lead and started arresting participants in their Critical Mass rides. Like many New York arrestees, since her arrest, Ms. Shura has been afraid to participate regularly in the monthly rides for fear of being arrested for the “extremist” behavior of riding her bicycle in a group. A number of arrestees have formed a not-for-profit group called FreeWheels to help provide support for people who have been arrested while riding their bicycles. See www.bicycledefensefund.org.
The City is now seeking an emergency injunction in State court against Time’s Up!, the environmental advocacy group the City believes is “behind” the rides, and several of its volunteers. The injunction the City seeks would not only prevent the rides by making participation in them a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, but also subject anyone who gathers in a group of more than 20 people in a City park, or advertises such a gathering, to prosecution for a misdemeanor, unless the gathering has a permit. The first court appearance in connection with the City’s new lawsuit is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Time’s Up! is represented by civil rights attorneys Deborah Berkman, Steven Hyman, Gideon Oliver, and Norman Siegel.