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Cross-Bronx Ride Out Participant: “Kids Just Want to Ride Bikes”

2:20 PM EDT on September 22, 2017

Participants in Sunday’s “ride out” biking down Broadway. Photo: Instagram/ricelifebmx75

A mass bike ride planned through social media on Sunday came to an abrupt end when NYPD set up a roadblock and arrested more than a dozen kids, in some cases causing physical harm. The police response was excessive and uncalled-for, according to one older participant, who's looking into getting permits for future rides.

The "ride out" attracted hundreds of participants, mostly young men of color, who rode through the Bronx and Manhattan. Inside Edition called the event "startling," "craziness," and "complete mayhem." CBS New York called it "bike bedlam," and Mayor de Blasio told reporters that the rides are "not acceptable." He promised "vigorous" NYPD enforcement.

Ronald Foster, 42, one of a handful of older participants, rejects those characterizations. While he occasionally sees younger riders engaging in bad behavior, he said the vast majority just want to bike with their friends. Many of them started biking as a way to distance themselves from crime and violence, he said.

"I don’t know how to explain it, kids just want to ride bikes," Foster said. "It's just the adrenaline of it."

On Sunday, participants gathered in Crotona Park in the Bronx before heading onto the Cross-Bronx Expressway and then into Manhattan. Officers tailed them in vehicles on and off from the start, including on the highway, Foster said, but didn't start confronting riders until the group was in Harlem.

"The orders came to corral us in Harlem, and they really were doing it," he said. "They were kicking kids off, they rammed a dude off [his bike] with a moped."

Ride outs like this have been happening for at least seven years, but Foster thinks Sunday's was the biggest one yet. While the starting location is announced only about two hours before a ride begins, NYPD is typically aware of the rides ahead of time because they are promoted heavily on social media, Foster said, and police have been known to contact some of the more well-known participants before rides start.

The rides used to begin in Rucker Park in Harlem, but now start further north in the Bronx. "We can’t meet up in Harlem because the cops will automatically start arresting you," Foster said.

On Sunday, after passing through Harlem, the group went down Broadway, stopping in Lower Manhattan by the FDR Drive before heading back north through Midtown. That's when police really cracked down.

Overall, police arrested 16 participants, mostly for "disorderly conduct," according to the New York Post. One video filmed at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue showed a young man whom police had thrown to the ground.

The whole scene made Foster furious. "It's a fucking pedal bike," he said.

Foster said NYPD's response to Sunday's ride typifies the relationship between the police and young people who bike, especially young people of color.

When Foster bikes in his neighborhood in the southwest Bronx, he's routinely tailed by officers from the 44th Precinct, he said, who have arrested him twice after stopping him for riding in a park after midnight.

Even with the constant threat of police harassment, more young people are riding bikes in his community, Foster said. "You’re always going to have elements getting in the way," he said of biking in the city. "Our element is the cops."

Now Foster is looking into getting the larger ride-outs permitted. His goal would be a ride like Transportation Alternatives' annual Century Bike Tour, which mostly does not use a car-free route but shares streets with car traffic. A car-free route would diminish the appeal of the ride out for young people.

“A Century tour-[style] ride would be good because the cars are still going to be on the road," he said.

With or without a permit, ride outs aren't going to stop. There's one scheduled for Halloween. Next time, instead of aggressively arresting kids, why doesn't NYPD put some thought and effort into helping the ride go safely.

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