Officers from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department started following alongside the city's Critical Mass in May. To say the event didn't go well would be an understatement. Dan Littell, a 30-year-old accountant, was tackled by an officer in an altercation that was caught on video. Rahim "Ra" Benjamin, a 23-year-old who lives in Sunrise, said he was knocked off his bike by a motorcycle cop.
June was much calmer. Although there were tons of cops herding the riders, there was no violence. Officers and cyclists actually seemed to -- gasp! -- get along.
Unfortunately, the peace didn't last.
On Friday, Critical Mass leader Ray Strack was arrested for resisting an officer and failure to obey. (Yes, technically the ride is leaderless, but the 55-year-old former U.S. Customs agent directs the route and serves as a spokesperson.)
Strack does not want to comment until his attorney gives the OK, but the cops say problems arose when the native New Yorker made last-minute changes to the route.
"The night was going extremely smoothly until towards the end, when some of the individuals who were riding didn't know where to go because [Strack] decided to change the route of the ride without telling anyone," says Fort Lauderdale Police Detective DeAnna Greenlaw. "That's when he got into an altercation with an officer."
According to a probable-cause form, the motorcycle cop leading the escort became confused when Strack and two other cyclists rode far ahead of the group.
"I rode forward to contact them, but I was immediately met with resistance when I told them to stop," the report by Hector Martinez says. "Seeing [Strack's] reaction, I turned around and notified lead motor sergeant to resume the ride over the bridge and head west to the preplanned route."
The form says the three riders, including Strack, then chased after the sergeant and corralled her motorcycle. Martinez then grabbed the back of Strack's T-shirt. As riders began to congregate around the scene, Martinez announced that Strack was under arrest. The report called the defendant "very defiant and non-compliant."
This mass should have been a celebration for Strack. In January, he fractured his T9 vertebrae while riding. This group ride marked only his second back on a bike since getting hit. In a video capturing his arrest, onlookers can be heard pleading for the officers to go easy on him. "He has a broken back!" screams one.
Although it's shaky, the video makes one thing clear: Cops and cyclists need to get together and come up with a solution immediately. Too many people are getting hurt.
UPDATE: Here's another account of Friday night's events, from Stuart Nelson, who was there during the arrest.
I was the ride leader until Ray arrived and was with Ray when the arrest occurred. Police version is a fabrication. There were no route changes at that time. The alleged route changes before then were the result of the police not understanding the route they were given (they confused 6th Ave with 6th street). The police weren't accompanying us, they were leading us, badly, against our wishes. Ray rode up to the officer to complain that she was going 3mph up a bridge, wouldn't let anyone pass her, and the riders were having difficulty staying upright at that speed. The officer responded by using her motorcycle to squeeze Ray against the curb. He slowed and went behind her and up on her left. He was then tackled from behind without warning.
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