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James O'Neill

NY Police Chief: Sunnyside Bike Lane Terror Attack Was ‘Particularly Nasty’

Thumbtacks spotted in the 43rd Avenue protected bike lane. Photo: Office of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer

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The NYPD doesn't think last week's thumb-tack attack on a Sunnyside bike lane is an act of terror — but the city's top cop says his agency is taking its investigation into the "nasty crime" seriously.

Commissioner James O'Neill and Mayor de Blasio deflected Streetsblog's contention that the attempt to injure innocent cyclists on 43rd Avenue was, in fact, terrorism, but the NYPD believes it will crack the case.

"That’s not classified as a hate crime," O'Neill said at a press conference on Tuesday. "I think you know I am a bicyclist [and] I think that is a particularly nasty crime. ... I mean it’s, look, it was couple of blocks long, with hundreds of tacks. And not only are you going to flatten people’s tires, but you are going to get people seriously injured so we are taking it seriously."

Mayor de Blasio (right) with Police Commissioner O'Neill on Tuesday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Mayor de Blasio (right) with Police Commissioner O'Neill on Tuesday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Mayor de Blasio (right) with Police Commissioner O'Neill on Tuesday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

He added that detectives are "actively investigating" the case and asked anyone in the public to come forward with information. (The NYPD tips hotline is 800-577-8477.)

Streetsblog specifically asked de Blasio if he thought it was a terror attack "given that the person who did this was trying to injure innocent people" as part of a political protest against a bike lane that the mayor built over opposition by the community board. The mayor wouldn't bite.

"It’s a crime, period," he said. "And it’s going to be taken very seriously and acted on. Look, there’s been controversies for sure over bike lanes and under Vision Zero. I’ve been very clear about the fact that the bike lanes that we’ve added are for everyone’s safety, for traffic calming, for reasons that support the Vision Zero philosophy and make us all safer.

"There’s any number of possible motivations and that’s why we have full investigations but the bottom line is it’s unacceptable, it’s a crime," he added. "And I can say this about the NYPD ... their ability to find people, particularly for the reasons we’ve stated before – more video, more folks in communities willing to come forward. It’s a rare situation where they don’t find the person who did it. And I am confident they will."

A police spokesman told Streetsblog that non-commissioned officers at the 108th Precinct "will continue to monitor the location." But the agency did not say it had any leads. Only one person has been known to openly call for violence along the protected bike lanes: A commenter on a Sunnyside Post article who wrote, "Bring on the carpet tacks!”

It is unclear why top city officials decline to define the incident as terrorism, which New York State penal code defines as "activities that involve a violent act or acts dangerous to human life that are in violation of the criminal laws of this state and are intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population."

The city's Emergency Management website calls terrorism "an intentional, dangerous act designed to create fear." And the city tells nightlife establishments that "terrorists seek to commit acts of violence that draw local, national, and international attention to their cause. Terrorists ... choose targets that symbolize the ideologies they oppose. Terrorists engage in violent behaviors ... to create fear in people they consider enemies."

Public officials may not use heightened rhetoric, but activists do.

"The all-out fear-mongering campaign waged by those who opposed the redesign was shocking. They promised there would be blood and mayhem," said Tom DeVito of Transportation Alternatives. "They prophesied burning buildings and emergency responders unable to navigate the new street design. ... The hysteria spread via social networks and local media coverage, which led to someone scattering tacks all over the bike lane on 43rd Avenue."

It's not the first time cyclists have been targeted, of course. In 2012, someone threw thumb tacks on the roadway in Central Park, injuring lawyer Steve Vaccaro, though that incident appeared to be connected to a general "bikelash" rather than the specific attack on the 43rd Avenue bike lane, which was installed this fall after a heated, year-long battle.

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