GRAND RAPIDS — Three people were arrested at the four-year anniversary of Grand Rapids’ monthly Critical Mass bike ride. The three arrestees were all charged with “hindering and opposing an officer,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to a one thousand dollar fine and imprisonment of up to two years.
The group was stopped near the corner of Front and Butterworth in downtown Grand Rapids. It was unclear as to the original reason for the stop, throughout the entire incident a number of reasons were cited by officers with the Grand Rapids Police Department–running a stop sign, blocking traffic, complaints from motorists, and lack of compliance with city bicycle ordinances requiring registration and bells.
Initially one officer lectured the group and when people questioned him as to why the ride was stopped, he singled out one man for having his tire in the opposing lane. When the man questioned this, the officer at first demanded identification and claimed he was going to ticket him and shortly after that stated that the man was under arrest. The man tried to walk away but was tackled and eventually pepper sprayed–an incident that is the first usage of chemical agents at a “protest” in Grand Rapids.
While subduing the first arrestee, the officer called in additional officers claiming that he had “one suspect resisting and a bunch interfering.” At least six additional police cars came to the intersection, and with their arrival, came a number of contradictory orders from the police–get out of the road, stay off the sidewalk, you can’t ride in the road (but it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk), and more. Throughout the incident none of the officers were willing to answer questions and two more people were singled out and arrested for asking questions and demanding to know why the first person was arrested.
Two past Critical Mass rides in Grand Rapids have been stopped by the Grand Rapids Police Department. An October 2002 “No Blood for Oil” ride involving over forty cyclists on 28th Street protesting the upcoming invasion of Iraq was stopped after officers informed the group that “traffic was backed up for miles,” while a similar antiwar Critical Mass in February of 2003 was stopped shortly before the group reached 28th Street. No arrests were made either case.
Critical Mass is a monthly bike ride promoting bicycles as a form of urban transit. On the last Friday of the month Critical Mass rides occur in over 200 cities around the world. While the local ride has no specifically defined goals, it generally promotes the creation of bicycle lanes and bicycle awareness in Grand Rapids. In the past participants have attended City Council meetings and asked for more resources to be focused on promoting and facilitating bicycling in Grand Rapids. The ride has no leaders and is facilitated primarily through the posting of flyers and word-of-mouth. During the rides the route is decided upon at random and remains fluid throughout, responding to suggestions and discussion between participants. A Grand Rapids-based independent media collective, Media Mouse, maintains a website for Grand Rapids Critical Mass but does not have a leadership role.
The next Critical Mass bike ride will take place on July 30 at 5:30pm. The group meets at Veterans Park at the corner of Fulton and Sheldon, one block east of Fulton and Division near the main branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library.