Last Friday marked the first Fort Lauderdale Critical Mass in which the police offered to help direct traffic. But instead of showing up on bikes, officers policed the area in cars and motorcycles. Although video circulated on Saturday of a 30-year-old accountant being tackled from his bike after blocking a cop car from passing, that wasn't the only confrontation -- or cyclist -- that went down.
Who was right or wrong in these instances isn't entirely black and white. What's clear is that tensions arose between cyclists who behaved a little recklessly and cops who didn't understand that it's technically legal for a bike to take up an entire lane of traffic or to overtake using the left lane. When officers don't understand bike statutes and put cyclists on the defensive, it creates a self-perpetuating cycle of conflict.
Rahim "Ra" Benjamin, a 23-year-old who lives in Sunrise, was not even part of the Mass on Friday. He was biking home from his job at an optical center in Plantation when he pedaled through Victoria Park and came upon the pack of about 900 cyclists. He turned east on 16th Street and tried to pass the mob, traveling just over the double-yellow line near the street's 1700 block. That's when a cop, he and several witnesses tell Pulp, started trying to force him into the crowd.
"I'm not in the Mass!" Benjamin explained to the cop. "I'm turning just up ahead."
But the motorcycle-riding officer didn't want to hear it. Fearing that he was going to be hit or hit somebody else, Benjamin booked it for the far side of the left lane, which was blocked off to oncoming traffic. He was mere feet before his intended turn before the cop sped ahead, veered a sharp left and caused the back of the motorcycle and the front of the road bike to collide. Benjamin fell to the side and into some bushes.
"He jumped up and yelled 'Do you know what you just did?'," says James Musters, a rider who was about 15 feet behind Benjamin when it happened. "The policeman walked toward him, and he backed off by the verge near a tree."
Christopher Lloyd was riding by when he saw his acquaintance and neighbor yelling at the motorcycle cop.
"Ra got up screaming and shouting, and I stepped in there and pushed them apart," he remembers. "A female officer showed up on the scene and started responding very professionally. She nodded her head and gave me the OK to calm him down before she engaged him again."
Lloyd, who's lived in South Florida for 40 years and usually rides on a tandem bike with his 10-year-old daughter, says that Critical Mass is big enough to need police around and that Benjamin could have handled the situation better.
"[Ra] didn't follow what the cop was trying to say, and he could have just taken a different route home," he says. "If we can get a police escort like they have for funerals, I'm all for it. I don't want drivers trying to plow through intersections or gaps in our ride."
But Benjamin insists that he's going to fight his ticket for failure to change lanes and that the cops acted with excessive force.
"Once I was off my bike, he grabbed me and just chucked me," he alleges. "I was just going five miles per hour more than the pace of the ride, so that's kind of frightening. I have to deal with idiots on the road all the time, and someone wearing a badge doesn't know that if he touches a 150-pound kid on a 20-pound bike with a motorcycle that his life might hang in the balance?"
If there's video of the incident, please send it to us, and we'll update this post.
Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!