Ding Dong Bruce Smolka’s Gone

Newsday is reporting that NYPD Assistant Chief Bruce Smolka has filed for retirement. Smolka is reknowned for his needlessly aggressive tactics in breaking up peaceful political demonstrations, his disregard of basic civil rights and his all-too-frequent abusiveness towards women. In one infamous video he was caught kicking a female demonstrator in the head at a May 2003 sit-in.

Newsday reports:

Smolka made the announcement last week, surprising police commanders
gathered for a meeting at police headquarters, police sources said. The
32-year veteran will work his last day in less than a month, then go to
work for Ron Perelman, head of Revlon Corp., sources said. Smolka’s retirement comes as his reputation would appear to be set in
stone: Rank-and-file police officers adore him – one told Newsday he’d
take a bullet for him – while civil libertarians and many of those who
have taken part in recent demonstrations say he is short-tempered and
overly aggressive.

The story goes on: 

Smolka emerged as a key figure in the protests during the RNC. More than 1,800 people were arrested. The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed two lawsuits challenging
those mass arrests, and Smolka is in the middle of giving a deposition
regarding police tactics, according to lawyers involved in the case. Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit is nearing trial in Manhattan Federal
Court, as Cynthia Greenberg has accused Smolka of repeatedly kicking
her in the head and cursing at her while trying to arrest her during a
2003 Manhattan rally in which demonstrators protested the U.S.
government’s immigration policies.

In 2005 the editors of the New York Press selected Smolka as number 17 on the year’s list of the Fifty Most Loathsome New Yorkers. I wrote up the entry. Here is the longer, unedited version:

smolka.jpgLast Friday the NYPD smashed yet another Critical Mass bike ride
seizing 50 bikes and arresting 37 people for the crime of assembling in
Union Square Park on two wheels. It was a continuation of the crackdown
that started during last summer’s epic 5,000-rider Republican National
Convention event. Despite a federal court order declaring the NYP’s
actions illegal, it doesn’t look like the cops are going to let up. As
the weather gets nicer and the rides grow in size, the confrontations
are likely to get worse.

Architect of the Critical Mass
crackdown is NYPD Assistant Chief Bruce Smolka. A little background:
Before turning his attention to cyclists, Smolka was the commanding
officer of the NYPD’s infamous Street Crimes Unit. It was his officers
who, in February 1999, pumped 41 bullets into Amadou Diallo,
an unarmed
African immigrant guilty of nothing more than standing in the hallway
of his own apartment building. Though the incident nearly sparked race
riots and ultimately led to the disbanding of the Street Crimes Unit,
it earned Smolka a promotion. Today he runs Patrol Borough Manhattan
South and is chief for all of Manhattan below 59th Street.

The
new job combined with the exigencies of the post-9/11 era has given the
30-year NYPD veteran the opportunity to practice his doctrine of
overwhelming force and disregard of First Amendment rights on a bigger,
more public stage. In February 2003, Smolka illegally ordered
horseback-mounted police to charge into a group of peaceful anti-war
demonstrators.
In April, he confronted a group of about 100
demonstrators in front of the midtown headquarters of Carlyle Group
with three times as many officers outfitted in full riot gear. "We were
swept off the street like fleas," Ben Maurer, an activist arrested that
day, told a journalist on the scene. "I was illegally arrested, just
for yelling at a building."

But it wasn’t until 2004 when
Smolka was appointed co-chair of site security at the Republican
National Convention that he really hit his stride. Responsible for
securing midtown and everything moving in and out of Madison Square
Garden, the Chief could often be found standing on his perimeter, head clean-shaven, blue eyes squinting, chin jutting, arms folded
across his chest like an urban Patton. A hands-on kind of guy, never
afraid to dive into a crowd of demonstrators, Smolka personally oversaw
the illegal arrest and detention of hundreds during the convention.

Smolka’s
civil liberties violations didn’t stop once the Republicans left town.
Perhaps humiliated by his inability to predict or control the humongous
Critical Mass ride of August, the chief seems to have made it his
mission to completely destroy the ride. He continues to unleash his
wrath and the full force of the NYPD on cyclists the last Friday of
every month. Internet bulletin boards that post his photo inevitably
fill up with messages or recognition like, "Hey, Smolka is the asshole
who very deliberately threw me in the street then told me to get out of
the street."

Justice may be catching up to Smolka. At a December
8, 2004 federal court hearing on Critical Mass, civil liberties lawyer
Steven Hyman skewered the chief before federal judge, William Pauley.
The day’s highlight was Smolka’s attempt to argue that seven bikes
lined up on a New York City street are a "procession" requiring a
permit while seven motor vehicles clogging the very same street are
simply traffic.
Judge Pauley didn’t buy it. He ruled that the NYPD acted
improperly by arresting and seizing the bicycles of Critical Mass
riders and he denied the NYPD’s request for a federal injunction
preventing people with bikes from assembling at Union Square Park on
the last Friday of the month. By the judge’s ruling, bikes have just as much right to be traffic as
cars.

For anyone who has followed Bruce
Smolka’s career, Judge Pauley’s verdict was not a surprise. The upside
of being arrested in a Smolka street sweep is that you have about a
100% chance of being exonerated when your case finally comes before a
judge.

  • …bikes have just as much right to be traffic as cars.

    I like that line.

  • buh bye

  • an Adirondacker

    See ya, Smolka. You won’t be missed.

  • David Chesler

    NYPD and their take-charge us-versus-them ghetto mentality were one of the top reasons I finally left.

  • crzwdjk

    David Chesler: If you mean you left NYC, then you haven’t really left the sphere of influence of that attitude. You just became one of the “us”, the suburban residents, some in SUVs, like the cops, and not the “them”, the urban residents, some on bikes, that the cops are policing.

  • ddartley

    Never forgot that guy since the reports of the 8/2004 Mass came out. Thanks for posting this news!

    David Chesler, I’m very intrigued by your comment, in fact I have recently written to police officials about a very similar impression I have of the attitude of cops–but what exactly did you “leave?” NY, or NYPD?

    Efficiency Nut, more than anything, it was the image of Smolka in my mind that inspired my use of the phrase (to which you objected), “battle of egos between CM and NYPD.” His aggressiveness toward CM seemed to me to exemplify the juvenile behavior of fighting harder specifically because you’re unsure whether you’re right or wrong.

  • ddartley

    Yeah, to clarify my worsening writing, David C., were you in NYPD, or did you just leave New York City?

  • He reminds me a bit of Vic Mackey from The Shield…

  • David Chesler

    I have never been with NYPD or any other PD. I started listening to a police scanner a dozen years ago and learned a lot.

    I left NYC and now live 10 miles north of Boston. (For a while I lived 3 miles north of Boston, a town where residents obtained a parking spot by shoveling it out [a 0.1″ snowfall counted] and then claimed it with a lawn chair or similar until around Memorial Day. That, and wanting to bring up kids close to my in-laws and with a yard, and not in a 2-decker on a tenth of an acre are why I moved out this far.) I’m on a contract now that has me taking the bus into Boston every day; normally I’ve found work in Cambridge or in other suburbs and driven. Between my wife and me we have a car and a minivan (2 adults and 3 kids, or a subset plus some bikes, don’t fit in the car), but no SUV. I don’t ride to work, but I usually keep a bike at work and ride at lunch from time to time.

    My main impression of living in NYC (birth until college, and then 2 years after college and 5 years after that while visiting my parents) was that everybody was angry at everybody all the time, and just one step away from violence. Too many of those interactions were involving cops, or people pretending to be cops, or cops who were pretending to be other than cops until after the confrontation had begun. (In case you’re reading, yes you got away with being a road-raging asshole by flashing your badge, but the memory lingers on.)

    It’s a lot less like that in other places. This isn’t Mayberry by any stretch (for one thing, Mayberry didn’t have a Superfund site…) but there is a lot more sense of community. The cops, the school teachers, and the rest really do work together, and while the cops do sometimes have to work to keep order, as individuals they’re members of the community and they work for the community.

    Fire Department example: When I was living in Co-op City I looked out my window at Pelham Bay Park and saw a brush fire. I called the FD and said what I saw. The dispatcher responded “Yeah buddy, and if you’ll look closer, you’ll see a fire truck putting it out!” (I took another look, and I still couldn’t.)
    There’s a wooded area on my street that is prone to brush fires. One night I smelled smoke and I called the local FD. I said I didn’t know, but I smelled something. They brought out the truck and drove down the block and back up. They said they thought they might have smelled it, but from the way I described it, intermittent and woody, it was probably someone firing up a wood stove. As it was the first cool night of late summer I allowed as they were probably right. They then said “But if you smell it again, don’t hesitate to call us, that’s what we’re here for.” By then my neighbor (who lives in the house she grew up in, who went to the local schools with my brother-in-law) had come out to see the commotion, and she started a conversation with one of the firefighters, who is married to her cousin.

    MassBike works with the local police on attitudes. A lot of cops have an idea that it is illegal to bicycle on roads where it is legal to bicycle (typically highways that are not limited access). The outgoing Lt.Gov. as one of her last actions unfortunately vetoed the bicycle bill that passed the legislature, a bill that would have added bicyclist rights education to police training and otherwise vehicularized bicycles. The sponsors are trying to get the bill going again.

    There is a bit of friction between bike messengers and pedestrians — there was a nasty collision a few years ago that was mostly the pedestrian’s fault. I think the fellow taking advantage of the falseness of the false one-way in my http://www.flickr.com/photos/50618253@N00/352166640/ is a messenger.

    Otherwise there are a lot of students around here, and thus a lot of bicyclists. There is plenty of grumbling from pedestrians and motorists about scofflaw bicyclists, and also Boston scores poorly on some measures that count bike paths, but bicyclists are part of the traffic in lots of places.

    I don’t interact with the Boston PD much at all. They’ve had some problems lately with overly exhuberant gatherings of students around sporting events, killing one innocent girl when they fired a so-called non-lethal weapon into a crowd. Bad things happen in the poorer, less white neighborhoods — I only read about that in the papers, I’m neither “us” nor “them” there.

    I haven’t followed CM-Boston. I rode with them once a number of years ago, and it was just a bunch (like a dozen or two) of us riding from Cambridge to Boston and back. We abided by more traffic controls than many bicyclists and than some motorists. Completely the opposite of the RNC and the CM-NY problems. (DNC was here that same summer — a few major roads got shut down, but as far as I remember the biggest issue was a pizza shop owner in the neighborhood of the DNC with an unwelcoming political sign on his store that he wouldn’t take down.)

    I know there is at least one lurker from MassBike here — correct me if I’m wrong.

  • karen

    David-

    I’m amazed that you have time for biking, what with all your postings and proganda here. Congrats!

    Since you revealed David that you get your info directly from Sen Dan Inoye and former members (Jonathan Adler) of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank (which can be researched at link below) I find myself seriously doubting the truthfulness of anything you might say.

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Competitive_Enterprise_Institute

    (if anyone is interested in checking out the fact that David does get his information from the sources mentioned above)

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Competitive_Enterprise_Institute

  • karen

    Sorry–for anyone interested in David Chesler’s history of postings with links to nefarious sources, as mentioned above…try here:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/01/19/battle-of-the-weatherpeople/#comments

  • Steve

    New parade rules have been published by NYPD:

    http://www.nyclu.org/nypd_parade_permits_pr_012607.html

  • David Chesler

    Since you revealed David that you get your info directly from Sen Dan Inoye and former members (Jonathan Adler) of the Competitive Enterprise Institute

    I’m looking over the things where you said I said (revealed?) I got information “directly” from these folks, and I can’t find it. I’ve never met them, I’ve never corresponded with them, and I’ve never said that I did.

    You asked if I was saying Or that scientists are not mostly in agreement that increased levels of this greenhouse gas are a major contributing factor in global warming? and I conceded that it may well be that “most” scientists believe this, but I claim that it is not all scientists.

    That seemed to be Dr. Cullen’s contention, that no legitimate scientist could deny anthropogenic global warming — any who do ought to be stripped of AMS membership.

    I set a bar for my claim, non-lunatic. That is, no matter how wacky an idea, I’m sure somebody claims it — Flat Earth anyone?

    You seemed to want a source when you falsely said “you never offer any resources for your statements“, so I Googled and found a source. Apparently the fact that the pointer to Claude Allegre came from the US Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works is problematic for you. They could be a stopped clock, but if I happen to look at that clock when at the hour that the clock is showing, the stopped clock doesn’t make it not that time. The original source is at http://www.lexpress.fr/idees/tribunes/dossier/allegre/dossier.asp?ida=451670. My French isn’t good enough to read it, but sending it through Babelfish it is apparent that Allegre is saying things like “Recently, in the Natural review, of the French researchers showed that this turning into a desert was largely due to tectonic movements responsible for the progressive increase of the African continent, modifying circulation weather. The effect of greenhouse does not have any major role in it. ” (End of the 2nd paragraph, Babelfish translation) Allegre is also cited by Foxnews (granted, a right-leaning source) on October 20, 2006 at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,222567,00.html. Certainly one may disagree with Fox’s slant, but I don’t doubt that Allegre said what they say he said, and that’s what’s under discussion here I think, if there exist reputable scientists who do not agree that global warming is caused by human activity.

    For a completely different source of disagreement with Dr. Cullen, see the blog of AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist James Spann at http://www.jamesspann.com/wordpress/?p=650.

    I’m sure anyone can find disagreement with things I write. I may spend a lot of time online, but it’s still not publication-quality. But we’re here for the same thing, I hope, promoting making things better for bicyclists and pedestrians. Climate change seems to be a closely related issue. (I understand this is a NY blog. I’m an expatriate NYer, so I don’t have a lot of current NY experience. If the topic is bike lanes that I actually rode in more than 25 years ago, it doesn’t matter that I’m not there now.) I’ve been a member of the bicycle advocacy group where I do live for a long time. I can learn from this place, and I might have something to contribute. Does it really matter if airport noise is the primary or a secondary problem people have with living near airports?

    In this thread, I provided non-hypothetical witness that when the New York Police Department makes things unpleasant for the citizens, it can and does drive productive taxpayers elsewhere.

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