Barbecuing in the park on Memorial Day is such a popular New York City pastime, the Parks Department won't issue permits for it. "We would never issue a permit for Memorial Day itself, as we keep spaces clear on these days for public use on a first-come, first-served basis," the department's website states. But the NYPD has apparently excluded one group from this rule: the same cyclists they targeted in the East Village last month for not having bells on their bikes.
Shardy Nieves, the bike messenger who runs the Track or Die Instagram account and organizes cycling events under the same name, says he got to Morningside Park at 5 a.m. to save a space for his eighth-annual Memorial Day BBQ. "This is a community BBQ, NOT A RIDE OUT!!!" his Instagram announcement states. Around 9:30 a.m., he says he was approached by an NYPD Lieutenant, the first of three he would see that day.
"The Lieutenant comes up and asks if this is the Track or Die barbecue, and I say yeah this is our barbecue," Nieves told Gothamist. "He said, 'Yeah, well do you have a permit for this?' I said no one will have a permit for today, the Parks Department doesn't issue permits on the major holidays."
Nieves said the Lieutenant told him that wasn't true, and that he would be coming back at 11:30 a.m., and if there were 20 or more people there, "we're going to shut it down."
Afterwards, Nieves said he spoke with a Parks Department enforcement officer, who assured him that he would be allowed to continue with the cookout.
"They know us. The [Parks] cop was like, just clean up, and no open containers," Nieves said.
Around 11:30 a.m., Nieves said a large group of NYPD officers arrived at West 116th Street and Morningside Avenue, including an officer from the Legal Bureau.
"The [Lieutenant] came back and was like, yeah this is getting shut down. There were maybe 15 of us, max," Nieves said, adding that the police said nothing to the family next to his spot, who were using a propane grill, which is against Parks rules.
Nieves said that his group packed up around 12:30 and relocated to the Bronx; the new site was passed around through word of mouth, and no officers showed up to stop them.
"You had 20 cops to the 11 people sitting on these blankets," said Jameson Croasdale, who brought his 18-inch Weber grill to the Track or Die barbecue. "It seemed like a very calculated, coordinated effort to shut this whole thing down and harass Shardy."
The NYPD and the Parks Department have not yet responded to our requests for comment.
On April 20th, the NYPD arrested Nieves on a warrant for an unanswered open container ticket from 2015, and confiscated bicycles that did not have bells on them. Later, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill told reporters that this enforcement action was a "tool" to stop a 4/20 bike race organized by Track or Die. Nieves's ticket was later dismissed.
"I thought about it, when all of this started, and the biggest start of police presence was the rideout for 'Rilla," said Caroline Beckwith, Nieves's girlfriend, referring to a well-attended memorial ride for Aurilla Lawrence, a 25-year-old working cyclist who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Williamsburg on February 28th. No charges have been filed.
Croasdale agreed: "It definitely all started ramping up after Aurilla got killed. They're getting called out on the deaths of cyclists and their lack of ability to enforce traffic laws on drivers, or they're getting called out from the other people saying, 'Oh these cyclists are reckless they're running red lights and all this,' so it's part of a larger effort to curtail this."
He added, "The logic seems to be that if we eliminate cyclists, we'll eliminate the problem. It just feels that way."
Beckwith said that the NYPD "has the wrong idea" about Track or Die.
"I don't know if it's an option to go talk to them, but there's a miscommunication," she said. "They're looking for something they're never going to find."
[UPDATE / 5:46 p.m.] NYPD spokesperson Sergeant Jessica McRorie sent us this statement in response to our questions:
The individual was informed that a gathering of more than 20 individuals would require a permit from the Park Department. He was also informed that he was welcome to stay in the park as long as parks department regulations were followed. The group chose to leave the location on their own accord.
We've followed up, asking why the department is seemingly contradicting the Parks Department rules, and why they singled out the Track or Die group for enforcement, and will update if they respond.