Blood on their Tracks

I was on the Critical Mass ride last night. Right in the middle of the so-called “riot,” when 19 cyclists were arrested by the MPD. I was in the middle of terrified kids scrambling off their bikes after being maced. Sirens converging from all four directions and stern city cops pulling out aerosol cans and uncollapsing batons. I was standing right next to the MPD prowler weaving its way down LaSalle through the confused rabble of cyclists. I heard one cop’s matter of fact threat: “If you don’t get out of the way, I. Will. Run. You. Over.” I was looking over my shoulder, peddling my ass off while blue and brown-uniforms advanced shoulder-to-shoulder up the street like it was Chicago in 1968 or Manhattan in 2004. I’m choosing those dates for a reason, but first, before I contribute any further to this Labor Day weekend’s blog hysteria, let me tell you what I was doing there.

I just finished a story on bicycling in Minneapolis for the October issue of Mpls.St.Paul Mag. Just went to press yesterday. In fact, I lead with an account of the July Critical Mass, an uneventful jaunt through the city–the cyclists even had a bemused police escort for the duration of the ride. I only decided to go on last night’s ride at the last minute, because my neighbor Juka was heading down. So we left around five p.m. and met everybody else by the Loring Park Fountain.

There were actually fewer people in the park than there were for the July ride. I was sitting on the grass, drinking Gatorade with Juka and listening to this loquacious black dude Darryl hold court about the Bonneventure Cemetery in Georgia when a kid in a baseball cap and a bandana around his neck passed the three of us these little yellow cards. The card were printed with “YOUR RIGHTS AS A CYCLIST” on one side and “YOUR RIGHTS WHEN DEALING WITH THE POLICE” on the other. At the bottom of the card there was a number for Joe Vacek, a cyclist/attorney at Then a scrawny kid with a scraggly beard called for our attention from fifteen feet up in a tree. “HEY,” he shouted down to us in his reedy voice, “WE HAVE SOME GUESTS FROM OUT OF TOWN THAT WILL BE JOINING US ON TONIGHT’S RIDE. WE’RE FROM pReNC AND WE’RE GOING TO BE HOLDING WORKSHOPS ON STRATEGIES TO PROTEST THE REBUPLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION THAT BEGINS ONE YEAR FROM TODAY.” He announced that pReNC would be meeting at a restaurant on Lake and 29th at the end of the ride. “THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THAT NOBODY GETS ARRESTED AND WE ALL GET THERE SAFE.”

At the time, I thought this dude seemed to be freaking out. I mean, I heard the St. Paul Critical Mass ran into some problems a couple of months back, but the Minneapolis rides are almost officially sponsored by the city at this point. Check out the Star Tribune’s story. MPD Lt. Marie Przynski sounds like she’s carefully reading from a pro-bike press release: “We’ve never had a problem with Critical Mass, the rally. We agree with them that we need to lessen our dependence on the automobile.” It’s the last part of Lt. Przynski’s statement that speaks to what really was going on: “Apparently, they had some infiltrators or outsiders who joined the rally tonight. And these outsiders were trying to provoke the officers.”

The battle lines are being drawn a full year in advance of the RNC, an event known as The Protest Super Bowl. With all the bridge coverage, you might have missed some of the stories in the Strib about the preparations on both sides. Earlier this week, the Minneapolis City Council voted not to contribute a penny. (I’m sure the cops loved that.) On Wednesday, Kathy Kersten wrote a story about the “pinstripe brigade,” all the ACLU lawyers who’ll be in town to defend what Kersten calls the “anarchists rabble-rousers eager to flout the law.” No surprises on either side.

Long before all the trouble on LaSalle, there was a police helicopter in the air following the pack. As the cyclists rolled south on Washington some dude was blasting “Thriller” on his boombox. There were riders on BMXs with Jesse James bandannas over their faces Al Qaeda-style. There was a menacing undercover dude in a Boston Red Sox jersey strapped with a glock that kept appearing at each intersection and eyeballing everybody behind dark aviators. He leaned out the door of his unmarked car and murmured into his walkie-talkie each time. When somebody got pulled over for a joint or for riding into traffic or whatever the hell happened on the Broadway Bridge (400 kids on bicycles makes for a ridiculous game of “telephone”), everybody went right into their roles. ACTION, baby! Twenty-somethings that had been handed yellow cards stamped with their RIGHTS AS A CYCLIST chanted “Let Him Go!” Cops set their jaws. They eventually let him go, but cruising down First Ave., the kids at the back of the pack started talking shit and the sirens whooped. By the time the group bottlenecked in front of the SuperAmerica on LaSalle the tinder caught. The call for officer assistance went out, boots hit the street, bicycles crashed, pepper spray singed the air, kids cried.

To quote Strother Martin: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Yeah, there is some cultural dovetailing going on—many of these unwashed bicyclists are sympathetic to the anti-WTO, Bush-hating types. But Critical Mass is known for a Merry Prankster spirit, not for throwing rocks at Starbucks. Last night was a full-on dress rehearsal for the RNC. Both by the cowboys and the indians. The cops and the robbers. With a lot of bewildered young women on $25 Schwinns caught in the middle. I would bet that everything settles down by next month’s Critical Mass.

But next August is going to be ugly.


14 Responses

  1. […] UPDATE: Steve Marsh was there and sums it up. […]

  2. Did all those rich kid poseurs know you consistently vote Republican? Secondly, what exactly are your rights as a cyclist versus the rest of us bipeds and oil burning fascists in cars? Goddamn anarchist rabble-rousers. And this is the only type of organized bike riding we should be doing:

  3. This is the best story of the event. Of course, the best story usually comes from those who are present – it’s just frosting that it happened to be you. Will be linking to it today, thanks Steve!

  4. This was by far the most balanced look at the Critical Mass incident on 8/31. Nice to see a balanced look at the situation analyzing the err’s on both sides. I agree it’s likley prep for the RNC convention where we’ll see more strife.

  5. […] that police first attempted to arrest an individual at Grant and La Salle. Yet my experience, and the experience of cyclist/reporter Stephen Marsh as told thoughtfully in his blog, say that cops first tried to make an arrest just before the Broadway bridge. Marsh writes, […]

  6. […] the Critical Mass bike ride on August 31st. Currently, that event is being adequately covered by eyewitness Steve Marsh, Aaron Landry and the always solid Andy Birkey at the Minnesota Monitor. The only thing that will […]

  7. A question to those who where there:

    Did anyone from Critical Mass touch, push, or physically interfer with the police? There is a lot of unnecessary name-calling, “anarchist rabble-rousers” “fascist oil burners” (we all fall into the catgories…) blah, blah, blah etc. But, putting aside all the incendiary words, what actually happened?

    I don’t see any concrete evidence of a riot or the police being touched (as they accuse) by demonstrators. I don’t see any reason for the violence and yet there is claim by the police and others there was. What are the facts? Stick to the facts.

    I’d say, in this situation, if any one in the crowd pushed, punched, shoved or physically interfered with the police than they are subject to arrest. But the cops do not have a free shot at attacking any bicyclist or using force at will.

    Violence is never necessary, even by the cops. I used to witness the most incredible acts of subduing violent crack-insane people with weapons in the New York subways by unarmed Guardian Angels and no cop needs to use violence, a baton or pepper spray to stop, apprehend or arrest a person if they are trained not do their job properly. And volence only begets violence. That’s the truth, Ruth.

    The cops can only make the violence worse and that is the lesson for next years RNC, if you really want one. But we know, nobody wants to listen to the truth because too many people LOVE VIOLENCE on both sides.

  8. Great recanting of the whole Critical Mass story. Told in a fair manner with plenty of detail. Nice work and an interesting look forward to the RNC in 2008.

  9. Seems like the goon squads are in training and maybe they want to bring up some of the silver shirts from Florida with tasers and they can tase anyone trying to exercise free speech. A person should never, never editorialize whn asking a question at a public event. Nor should they be presistent in their right to ask questions. That’s what tasers were invented for — smashing dissent because they are obnoxious.

    Being obnixious is grounds enough for tasing somebody. I wish I had one at work for those weekly staff meetings at work. Every week there are a few people each meeting who deserve to be tasered, if not for being obnoxious than for being asleep!

  10. Visit for the latest information on the city’s continuing smear campaign against participants in the 8.31 CM and to find ways to support those still facing charges (like donating money for their legal defense!).

    Pass the link along to any who might be interested.

  11. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  12. I would like to see a continuation of the topic

  13. […] It has been at least a few weeks since I’ve stopped over at StephenHero, so many thanks to Meditation for cluing me in to Steve Marsh’s personal account of the recent Critical Mass chaos — Blood on the Tracks. […]

  14. […] It has been at least a few weeks since I’ve stopped over at StephenHero, so many thanks to Meditation for cluing me in to Steve Marsh’s personal account of the recent Critical Mass chaos — Blood on the Tracks. […]

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