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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Environment & Forest Defense
CHP harass bicycle demonstration, one citation
California Highway Petrol (CHP) officers harassed the monthly Berkeley Critical Mass bicycle demonstration Friday night June 14, 2002, issuing one false citation. Photos from video below.
Friday, June 14, 2002
The monthly Berkeley Critical Mass bicycle demonstration was subject to police harassment by the California Highway Patrol Friday night. One well-known IMC videographer and bicycle activist, Jason Meggs, who has suffered a history of false arrest by the CHP, was targeted with a false citation which disrupted and detained the ride for approximately 20 minutes.
The demonstration had been peaceful and potent as it rolled through the streets of Berkeley with a festive flair. Music played from a specially designed bicycle trailer, two young women (one a photographer) rode atop a rolling couch, and two more rode on a small utility trailer. Demonstrators chanted, sang, and carried signs and banners. Some participants brought squirtguns to play a hectic game of water tag throughout the warm evening ride. People of all stripes danced and cheered from the sidewalks, and honked and waved in support from motor vehicles (including one from the middle of I-80!).
After rolling through downtown Berkeley, along Telegraph Avenue, back through downtown and down University Avenue to the new bicycle-pedestrian bridge, riders headed along the beautiful though poisoned Bay, towards the Albany Bulb, which is being threatened by development. (for one account, read: http://www.transbay.net/~nessie/Pages/landfill.html).
Some riders were planning to head to the Pink Man show (http://www.pinkman.tv/), produced by Michael Max and company, a not-for-profit production involving unicycles and trapezes. Others were hoping to go on to a benefit party which the entire ride had been invited to.
They didn't make it to either. While enjoying the sunset and fresh air at the Bulb (some went exploring) and waiting to make a decision, the ride had dwindled in size while CHP forces had built up. When riders headed back to town, they found that "free"way entrances had been blocked off by CHP motorcycles and cars, evidently to prevent the ride of now fewer than 30 from entering. No riders made any attempt to enter the "free"way. In the past year, bicyclists have visited the bulb without CHP present, without incident.
CHP continued to follow the ride closely after it had safely passed the ramp entrances and exits. Some riders claim that an announcement was made at the rear to take only one lane (there was essentially only one lane at that point, anyway). One motorcycle officer tore through the crowd at high speed, evidently to scare them into the far right, then made an illegal U-turn and illegally rode into oncoming traffic (sharing the lane with oncoming motorcar traffic). The riders were within their rights under the U.S. Constitution to take the full lane, as well as the California Vehicle Code under section 21202. This is also the safest and most effective manner for such "Critical Mass" bicycle demonstrations to behave.
Shortly thereafter, videographer and activist Jason Meggs attempted to legally pass the slower-moving and now bunched-up bicycle demonstration. He signalled and entered the left of two lanes on the right side, leaving plenty of room for passing vehicles. He was promptly pulled over by first name by the officer who had ridden backwards into traffic.
The officer further demonstrated his ignorance of bicycle rights by demanding "License, registration and proof of insurance". Mr. Meggs needed none of these. The officer also inspected whether the bicycle was registered (it was, in Berkeley), which Meggs protested, saying that under the 39000 sections of the California Vehicle Code (CVC), his bicycle did not need to be registered in Albany and further that such mandatory registration is counter productive and encourages bicycle theft.
When Meggs began to call out that the ride was having its rights violated, the Sgt. present came very close to Meggs' face (see photo below) and challenged him to produce a permit. Meggs insisted he did not need a permit to participate in a demonstration, that case law and the U.S. Constitution supported him in that statement, and that in any event, had been operating his bicycle within his rights under the California Vehicle Code (CVC).
Demonstrators kept their spirits up even as they were made cold waiting in the wind near the Bay as darkness fell. Some demonstrators were unable to return home before dark, and the Pink Man show was missed due to the delay. Some riders did not have their lights with them -- essentially endangered because of CHP harassment.
One woman present stated that she was unable to leave because she had been cut off by a motorcycle, which boxed her in. Motorcycles were parked blocking a lane of traffic throughout the incident.
Jason Meggs has been falsely arrested repeatedly by the CHP, which has a pattern and practice of obstructing and impeding traffic in the process. This is documented in part by the Bike the Bridge! Coalition (http://www.bikethebridge.org/) and the Bicycle Civil Liberties Union (http://www.bclu.org/). The CHP are known to possess a very large file on Mr. Meggs and reports of CHP surveillance have been received by him.
The CHP cited Meggs for 22400 "Impeding Traffic" although no traffic was impeded by Meggs, just by the CHP. Meggs corrected the officer that the actual charge should be, 22400A which the officer conceded was correct. He did not amend the citation on the scene (this would have required a third signature from Meggs, whose "Free the Bikes" signature was rejected).
Immediately after the incident, as the big heavy motorbikes roared away to return to their "free"ways, demonstrators cheered and took to the road, music playing and trailer-riders dancing (see photo below). Meggs immediately exercised his right to the road by passing in the left lane.