Critical Mass has long contended that the NYPD sets and enforces certain rules and policies so that police can target their monthly rides. Today the bicyclists began the uphill battle of trying to prove that in court.
Bicycle groups are suing the NYPD in federal court over new rules that let police ticket or arrest any "recognizable group" of 50 or more cyclists that ride together without first obtaining a parade permit from the police department.
The NYPD rule changes are widely seen as an effort to crack down on "Critical Mass." The rides, which take place in 300 cities around the world, usually take place on the last Friday of the month in Manhattan and can draw hundreds of cyclists.
Plantiffs in the lawsuit, including historians, environmental groups, individual riders and the Five Borough Bicycle Club, contend the law violates their First Amendment right of assembly. In a Manhattan federal court today, riders said the law could also apply to various biking day trips that might draw a larger groups.
"We looked into applying for permits for our rides, but found that it was a bureaucratic nightmare. The rules for parades are totally inappropriate for bicycle rides. For example, Fifth Ave on a Sunday is prohibited, even though most of Fifth Avenue is an official NYC bike route," the group said.
City lawyers argue that the parade rules serve “legitimate law enforcement objectives.”
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has said “We want the people who participate in these demonstrations to adhere to the law.”
Since the new parade law, many cyclists have been arrested at Critical Mass rides. In addition to arrests, the Critical Mass riders have alleged other forms of NYPD abuse and discrimination.
Most memorably, a uniformed police officer was caught on video body-checking a critical mass rider near Times Square last summer.