Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The June 2002 critical Mass ride. (Another Repeat)

I got to thinking about what I should put up here that that would be a good entry after that 9/11 story and I remembered this piece that I wrote bout a critical mass ride in Warsaw from June of 2002. I m really not sure that this is the best piece of riding that I have ever created, but just as it was for “The News From New York”, this was written in the heat of the moment and during a great catastrophe. But unlike what happened in New York, this terrorist attack was committed at the hands of the polish police. And, I was right in the middle of it.

The story was basically this. After Zaremba told his lies about our meeting at the Solidarnici and Andersa crossing on May 15. Zaremba of course accused me of arbitrarily attacking his car and beating the shit out of him rather than admitting that he tried to run me over with his car before cutting me off and running me into a parked bus. This of course was the incident that got my passport pulled and inspired the book Being Had as well as this blog. Being a cop himself, Zaremba’s story was taken as fact by the cops who now thought the cities bikers were developing into some sort of violent, anti-car militancy group. And so, by way of making retribution, they decided to “push back” against the bikers by making a little statement of their own. So what they did was that they turned the June 21st, 2002 Warsaw Critical mass ride into a full-on riot, complete with clubbing, arrests, attacking riders with bikes and cars.

Again, as with the News from New York, this small essay was edited out of he book, so I decided to put it up here. I would like to say however, that at the moment all of this was happening, I was more sick than anything. After this riot, I was seen as some sort of bike hero by the Warsaw bikers. In fact, this riot made me even bigger because people felt that I had created some real energy. But I never did buy into it or accept the role. All I wanted to do was leave.

But the politics of Warsaw biking and Maka and Betty and Drazek and Shuler are for another time. And for another guy. I have no intentions to ever go back unless it is with my lawyer and a great big bag to carry home a whole lot of retribution (money) of my own.

Anyway, here is a piece I wrote at an Internet Café on Nowe Swiate Street in Warsaw, Poland about 20 minutes after having a shotgun pointed at my head.

Warsaw, Poland

Tonight I have seen what is my mind the single stupidest and most pointless societal event of my life. On this night, the police of the city of Warsaw, Poland have opened hunting season on bicyclists. This is not an exaggeration, nor am I looking for unnecessary or unwarranted sympathy but, let me tell you what it is I have just been a part of.

Starting at about 6:00, perhaps 300 riders of all makes and models of bikes took to the streets for what has become known as a critical mass ride. What this was intended to be was a peaceful demonstration of bicycle rights in big cities. I have participated in these in the states, and they have generally been thought of as simply a day for bikers to make a gentle show of force, speaking as a group to the to the people who drive cars to remind them that the bikes have a right to the streets as well. I guess the general idea of this is to tie up the streets for an hour or so, slowing traffic a bit and simply drawing attention to the bicyclist’s needs and rights to be on the streets. These are peaceful events and are seen, at least in my experience in the states as more a bike party then anything else. And certainly, this even started in much the same way, with the bikers gathering near the old town to meet and say hello before heading out for the ride.

But apparently in Poland, the riding of a bike is now being thought of as a violent crime! What I have just witnessed is a police presence following the group in ever increasing numbers. And after a few initial pushes, they began to single out the riders for arrest. When this drew scorn from the other riders, the police then went to sticks, beat two riders violently as they were dragged from their bikes, and thrown into the vans. Within fifteen minutes there were squads of cops in riot gear starting to block off streets, some pointing shotguns at the heads of riders. At this point, the group began to break up as riders began to flee in fear of their lives. And this was met with what appeared to be cops chasing down the fleeing bikes in their cars, and then the cops jumping from the cars and tackling bikers to the pavement. I saw a girl of about twenty, tackled from her bike by fifteen-riot gear wearing cops. A few of my friends played the hero, and walking purposely up top the cops and asking to be arrested. And this act was met by even more cops with sticks, with guns and with their cars, pushing, beating and bumping the riders, coaxing a violent confrontation as best as they could. But, and this was the irony, all this was bicycles, so all the folks could do, was all a bike can do: they rode, or tried to ride away. And this was met with even more violence on the part of the police tracking them down, knocking the bikers to the pavement with their cars and beating them with sticks...

I am just sick over what I have just seen. This started simply a slow group bike ride. There were no weapons, no chanting, no stones or guns, just riders asking for some common decency and a shared place on the road to ride on. What is happening even as I write these words is that the police of the city of Warsaw have started physically assaulting anyone riding a bike. At this moment, you can hear the sirens going on all over town, and the last I saw, anybody on a bicycle was being tackled and cuffed by a police force that had opened hunting season on the demonstrators.

So, I am a biker who has been in situations while riding where people who thought it were somehow a joke for a car to hit a bicyclist. And certainly, I was proud to be a part of this ride. But I have never been a part of something like this. The girl I saw attacked by fifteen blue uniformed, helmet-wearing cops weighed a hundred pounds and rode a bike from 1964. This was not just about bikes, this was an attack on freedom of speech, and this was an attack on freedom of thought. This was an attack on the simple premise of living ones life without the fear of assault on ones person. This was a demonstration of a desire for peace, and what we were given was a show of the violence inherent in the government here in Poland. This was pure force and conflict, started by the police against a group of people who were committing no crime but for the riding of bicycles.

I think this will be described tomorrow in the papers as a riot, and when this is said, I am sure they will say that the riders were this or they were that, but what this rider is saying, and this was from first hand experience: these cops were enjoying this. This was a bike hunt. They relished the violence of the confrontation. They wanted this ride dispersed, in the most brutal and violent manor possible and regardless of the nature of the evening. They not only had no problem beating us into submission, they seemed to relish the opportunity to do so. This was in my opinion a planned, violent assault on people for simply riding bicycles. I am ashamed to be here. If any of you who get this letter are a part of any bike organization, or any connections to any media anywhere, please pass this letter on to them. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to write me back. What I just saw sickens me. This was simply an outrageous and unnecessary brutality, and there are people in jail and in the hospital because they were assaulted here, publicly, violently, and purposely and all they did was go for a bike ride.

Adam Goodman
Warszaw, Poland, 6-21-02

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