A trial challenging the NYPD's classification of group bicycle rides like Critical Mass as "parades" kicked off today in United States District Court in Manhattan. Two years ago, the NYPD began enforcing a controversial new rule that requires groups of 50 or more to apply for permits when taking to the streets for processions, races and protests. The new policy gave legal legitimacy to a police crackdown on the monthly Critical Mass bicycle rides, which have been a source of tension between cyclists and cops since the Republican convention in 2004.
A coalition of riders and advocacy groups, including Time's Up! and the Five Borough Bike Club, say that the rule violates their First Amendment right of assembly; they also argue that the NYPD has been selectively enforcing traffic laws and harassing cyclists in violation of the 14th Amendment. (Similar rides in Brooklyn, for example, are more tolerated by police.) And Times Up! contends that testimony given during depositions of high-ranking officers prove that Commissioner Ray Kelly’s allegations against Critical Mass bicycle riders "were made without credible evidence, based on information from unknown sources and used to rationalize the NYPD’s multi-million dollar campaign to follow, ticket, and intimidate Critical Mass bicycle riders every month."
Transcripts of the depositions are here, and Times Up! has also excerpted some of the testimony. Bill DiPaola, the director of Time’s Up!, tells City Room, "It’s not so much because we think we’re going to win this trial, but we want people to review the evidence." When the lawsuit was first announced, Ed DeFreitas, president of the Five Borough Bike Club, explained, "Suing city government is not one of the ordinary roles of the 5BBC. But organizing group bicycle rides is. The NYPD’s parade rules essentially outlaw large bike rides, under the dubious claim that bicycle rides are a danger to public health and safety."