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NYPD Intimidates and Cracks Down on Cyclists For No Good Reason

5:38 PM EDT on April 22, 2019

An NYPD lieutenant tells kids why some of them got tickets for not having bells. Photo: Terry Barentsen via YouTube.

Dozens of armed cops swarmed two Manhattan parks on Saturday to harass kids on bikes and kick them out of the public spaces — the latest display of aggressive enforcement against cyclists in what Mayor de Blasio calls “America's fairest city.”

More than 50 cops intimidated young kids, confiscated many bikes, and wrote tickets to youths for not having bells on their bicycles on Saturday — a targeted response that the mayor claimed to not know anything about and the NYPD dismissed as merely a precaution on 4/20, a day when marijuana use was expected to jump.

De Blasio said on Monday at an unrelated press conference, “I literally can’t comment" because he did not know "anything" about the harassment or the four tickets that were issued to kids for not having bells.

But Council Speaker Corey Johnson did not hold back in blasting the NYPD for doing the exact opposite to make cyclists feel safe in the city — especially when they are being killed at an alarming rate this year.

"We should be encouraging cycling by making people feel safe biking on our streets, not targeting cyclists for overly punitive crackdowns. We have to do better than this," Johnson, who is mulling a run for mayor, wrote on social media.

And Bay Ridge Council member Justin Brannan said the city should instead focus on actual issues that put people in danger— like the chaotic intersections in his district.

Saturday’s crackdown began in Tompkins Square Park, where cops showed up en masse to arrest the organizer of the sixth annual “Race and Bake” biking event. Cops knew organizer Shardy Nieves would be at the park because they had followed his social media accounts.

“A friend of mine counted 52 cops,” he said.

Nieves said as he walking into the park, he was greeted by the police officers — and one officer showed him a folder full of social media posts promoting the event, whose name is a cheeky pun for marijuana use, though Nieves claimed it actually refers to baked goods and pizza that the riders enjoy after the race.

Nonetheless, he was arrested on what cops said was an outstanding open container warrant.

The arrest of Shardy Nieves.
The arrest of Shardy Nieves.

The timing of his arrest the day of his racing event was suspicious, according to Nieves, who said he was pulled over this past summer for running a red light and was told his record was clean. He added that cops were clearly trying to intimidate participants, some of whom were indeed spotted on a video made by participant Terry Barentsen leaving the event before it even started, owing to the police presence, said Nieves.

Another joked ruefully that the cops who had ticketed some of the riders had awarded the kids the "no-bell prize."

“It was pretty ridiculous. I’m organizing a bike event you don't want to happen and now I have a warrant. You guys have all these cops here to pick me up,” Nieves said. “They legit did this to arrest me in front of everyone, to stop this event.”

A Bronx judge quickly dismissed the charges.

But the unwarranted crackdown did not end with Nieves’s arrest. Police also wrote up cyclists, most of whom were kids of color, for not having bells on their bikes.

Cops confiscated their bikes and brought them to the local precinct. Several kids had to wait hours to get them back, according to social media reports and one of the victims.

"As soon as we got there, we all sat on our bikes and the cops kind of just walked to us and told us they were doing bike checks. They told us they didn't have bells so they were gonna give us summons," said 21-year-old Marc Nieves, who is of no relation to the organizer, Shardy Nieves. "From 1 pm, we didn't get our bikes back to almost 6 pm."

Police later marched to Union Square Park, where they continued the crackdown. 

The targeted harassment was the latest NYPD crackdowns on cyclists, which cops usually launch after a cyclist is killed. Over the winter, cops went on a ticket blitz against cyclists after 72-year-old Chaim Joseph was struck and killed on Eighth Avenue near 45th Street in Manhattan on Feb. 4 — an officer days later issued a biker a summons for not wearing a helmet, which is not against the law. And another cop tackled a cyclist to stop him for riding outside a blocked bike lane — which later led to a massive rally outside the Midtown North stationhouse.

And lest not forget de Blasio's unjustified crackdown on e-bikes, which he has continued to defend even after data that proves the illegal vehicles made up just a tiny fraction of all 2018 collisions.

This city will never be the fair place the mayor wants it to be until he stops giving his cops permission to harass anyone who gets around on two wheels instead of four, according to Rosemary Bolich from the Biking Public Project. 

“The NYPD's targeted harassment over the weekend of young people of color riding bikes is appalling. From immigrant food delivery workers to teenagers with BMX bikes, there are too many examples of racist enforcement of traffic laws in this city. The mayor claims that NYC is a fair city, but it never will be until this kind of harassment stops," she said.

NYPD spokeswoman Detective Denise Moroney said officers were assigned to the park ahead of Nieves’s event, which police claim was “advertising smoking marijuana and traveling on New York City roadways to various locations.”

On Monday, police said they did not write any tickets for anything related to marijuana.

Cops should use the same amount of resources and energy to kick dangerous drivers — including themselves — off the road as they do to target cyclists for minor infractions, said a spokesman from Transportation Alternatives.

“It seems like they'll find any excuse to ticket people on bikes. If we're going to be sticklers for the letter of the law, how about cracking down on people who have illegal license plate covers and defaced license plates instead,” said Joe Cutrufo.

Streetsblog followed up with the mayor's office, but has not heard back.

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