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Critical Mass: Over 260 Arrested in First Major Protest of RNC

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Some 5,000 cyclists gathered in Union Square Park for “Critical Mass,” a monthly bike ride around Manhattan. New York police arrested 264 people–many of them were held for 24 hours. [includes rush transcript]

More than half a million people took to the streets yesterday to protest the Republican agenda in New York. The march was largely peaceful, but the day was hardly without incident. After the six-hour long march, protesters did not just pack up their signs and go home. Various groups spread out across the city holding demonstrations and actions into the late hours of the night and many of them were met with violence at the hands of the NYPD.

In the Theatre District, a massive police presence greeted protesters who had launched a peaceful yet relentless verbal assault campaign on Republican delegates attending Broadway theaters as guests of The New York Times.

Police conducted indiscriminate arrests without warning, catching protestors, bystanders, legal observers and some members of the press using plastic fencing and netting material to fence them in.

Plainclothes officers riding unidentified mopeds, were deployed on the streets of Times Square where they rushed dangerously onto pedestrian sidewalks to block protesters” movements, and pen them in for arrest. Protesters chanting at delegates coming out of theaters were forced away by police who often followed them for several blocks. National guild lawyers said police ordered protesters to disperse, then arrested them before they were able to leave. While bearing down on one group, a senior police official ordered told officers “If they stop. If they ask a question. They get cuffed.”

During the parade earlier in the day, 15 people were arrested, including nine charged with felony assault on police officers. The arrests occurred after a paper-mache and wood dragon was set on fire outside Madison Square Garden. In a separate incident, one police officer sustained third-degree burns.

Some 200 arrests were made yesterday, most of them for disorderly conduct. Over 400 have been arrested since Friday when protests surrounding the Republican convention began.

The first major demonstration came on Friday night when some 5,000 cyclists gathered in Union Square Park for “Critical Mass,” a monthly bike ride around Manhattan.

New York police made over 264 arrests that night in several locations along the bike route. Cyclists said the bike ride was peaceful and the police acted unreasonably. Most of those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct and held for 24-hours at Pier 57, a three-story, block-long pier that has been converted to a holding pen for those protesting the convention.

  • Sights and sounds of the Critical Mass ride.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The first major demonstration came on Friday night when some 5,000 cyclists gathered in Union Square Park for Critical Mass, a monthly bike ride around Manhattan, sponsored by the environmental group, Time’s Up. New York police made over 264 arrests that night, in several locations along the bike route. Cyclists said the bike ride was peaceful and the police acted unreasonably. Most of those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct, and held for 24 hours at Pier 57, a three-story block-long pier that’s been converted to a holding pen for those protesting the convention. Democracy Now! producer, Elizabeth Press, got on her bike with a camera mounted on the handlebars. So she could record the Critical Mass bike ride as it went through the streets of New York with 5,000 cyclists. This is her piece from the Critical Mass ride.

BEKA ECONOMOPOLIS: My name is Beka Economopolis. I’m here at the Critical Mass ride, with thousands of other people on bikes and skates. And this is something that we do as a tradition on the last Friday of every month. We meet at 7:00 at Union Square. And we take to the streets and we ride. And we don’t have a permit. It’s more about taking back public space. And having a good time doing it.

BILL DiPAULO: My name is Bill DiPaulo, I work with Time’s Up, an environmental group. We’re using our bikes in nonpolluting transportation. And we want everybody to be aware that this is a positive thing happening, and not to be looked at as a demonstration but a positive celebration.

UNIDENTIFIED: We’ve been in communication with the NYPD today, as have the organizers of tonight’s Critical Mass ride. What happens remains to be seen, I’m not quite sure. But we’re definitely prepared to document and monitor the police’s reaction.

SARAH TURNER: Hi, my name is Sarah Turner. I was on the corner of Second Avenue and 10th Street where the Critical Mass had just completed. The police came with a line of motorcycles. And they started pushing the bikes. And the bikers started pushing back. There was a man who was trapped under his bike. And the police all grabbed him at once. One police officer violently pushed his face into the ground and put his knee on the person’s neck. The other police officers quickly were shouting to get back, as everybody was chanting, “Let him go, let him go.” The police started taking out their batons and swinging them at the protesters. The protesters were chanting, “The whole world is watching.” one police officer took out his pepper spray and said, “Get back, or you’re all going to get sprayed.”

ELIZABETH PRESS: My name is Elizabeth Press. I’m a producer at Democracy Now! I was just arrested at 36th and 7th Ave. while documenting the Critical Mass bike ride. I pulled up to a red light. In front of me, the cops were arresting a mass group of bike riders. I pulled over to the side and put my camera on the arrests. And then the officer came up to me and said I was violating the law. After being detained I was then released at 34th and 7th Avenue.

LEIF: My name is Leif. I’m 19 years old. I was arrested for riding my bicycle. They put me in a bus, brought me to this place, it was like a pier, I don’t know where it was. I think it was on the west side. The conditions were terrible. It was like these big, tall fence cages with barbed wire at the top. The floors were covered in this motor oil, type deal that gave me like a rash on my arm. It was terrible. And from there, we went to just cell to cell to cell. Basically I just got out just now.

UNIDENTIFIED: It feels like a really good plan. To break us mentally and physically. A preplanned system where people would be put in these very, very dirty facility and come out of the system, mentally broken, and physically dirty. And then, even the police people in the downtown station were constantly asking us, why are you so dirty and crusty punks? They were laughing at us. And they did — I don’t think they ever been there, they hadn’t realize that they did it. That their system is doing it. And I think it was done intentionally to a crusty punk any possible legitimized person that is arrested. So that when they come out, any picture taken of them is just like this dirty anarchist madness.

AMY GOODMAN: That report prepared by Democracy Now! producer Elizabeth Press with the reports of many other independent videographers and reporters around the city who have converged here to cover the Republican National Convention.

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