NYPD Commissioner: Bell Tickets Were a Tool to Stop a Bike Ride

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

The city’s top cop on Thursday admitted that he deployed dozens of his rank-and-file officers to Tompkins Square Park last month solely to stop what police believed would be an unruly bike ride — a misuse of power by law enforcement to harass people for a crime they had not even committed, critics said. 

NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill’s confession comes about two weeks after more than 50 armed cops confiscated bikes from young adults, who were then handed tickets for not having bells — something even O’Neill was guilty of before handing back his “no-bell prize” this week, he said.

“It is an abuse of authority if the bicyclists were not misbehaving at the time. The police have other proactive measures at their disposal if they anticipate misbehavior. Most bicyclists do not have bells,” said Steve Wasserman, a staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society.

Cops had showed up in force to the “Race and Bake” event on April 20, which organizer Shardy Nieves said had nothing to do with marijuana, beyond puns. Police did not ticket anyone for weed that day — only riders of bikes without bells.

The officers showed Nieves a folder filled with printouts of his social media accounts advertising the sixth annual race and then arrested him for an unrelated 2015 open container warrant that a Bronx judge immediately tossed out.

O’Neill played dumb about Nieves’s arrest and avoided a question whether police regularly surveil people’s social media accounts to nab them for prior nonviolent offenses. Instead, he insisted that the cyclists wreak havoc on city streets and needed to be stopped — though he would not say if the riders targeted last month were involved in the dangerous riding that O’Neill said are in videos. The NYPD did not provide such evidence to reporters.

“This was a group, they meet periodically and there’s video out there — you got to take a look at what these bike groups do,” O’Neill said at an unrelated press conference on crime stats. “They ride en masse the wrong way up major avenues, they play chicken with buses and trucks.”

O’Neill said the targeted enforcement was a “tool” to prevent the annual “Race and Bake” ride from happening, and to stop the bikers’ allegedly bad behavior.

“This was a tool that the officers of Manhattan South used to prevent this behavior from happening that day,” said O’Neill.

Bike advocates had accused Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD of carrying out “misplaced priorities and racist policies” after the crackdown on the young cyclists — most of whom are people of color and bike messengers just trying to make a living in de Blasio’s “Fairest big city in America.”

But the admission that police preemptively decided to shut the event down is even more disturbing, and a clear display of stop and frisk, said Biking Public Project organizer Rosemary Bolich.

“The NYPD’s statement further shows that their actions were simply punitive and racist. They showed up to issue summonses and confiscate bikes based on predicted behavior, not actual behavior,” she said. “We should be encouraging young people to ride bikes instead of presenting them with yet another danger. This is just broken windows policing by another name.”

  • Sassojr

    Somehow they can find resources to stop bicycles, but not dirt bikes and ATVs.

    Still no stories on the barrage of motorcycle-only checkpoints. I counted at least 3 (HHP and 72nd, HRD @ Triboro, and I87 @ Willis Ave Br), including one at NOON yesterday! They’re done under the guise of “safety” (isn’t that what my mandatory safety inspection covers?). Aren’t commercial vehicles more dangerous? What about an SUV-only checkpoint?

    These checkpoints put everyone in danger: including officers walking out into highway traffic and motorcyclists who frequently get rear ended in heavy traffic, especially police generated traffic with lots of rubbernecking. They also make law-abiding riders look like we’re all breaking the law.

  • Setty/Steven

    Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble

  • Rider

    Pretty simple. Cyclists assembling peaceably in a park are easy pickings. It’s a lot harder to catch SUVs, commercial vehicles, dirt bikes and ATVs.

  • Sassojr

    You missed the whole thing about motorcycle only checkpoints. They could just as easily run SUV only or Commercial only checkpoints.

  • motorock

    NYPD and racist policies? Or actions that defy logic? Is that hard to believe? Lol… Motorcyclists have been facing this discriminatory behavior even more than cyclists-and I have been a victim in both situations. Add the color of my skin and boom, easy pickings.
    Now if they could take catch the scofflaws on bicycles and dirt bikes and ATVs instead of harassing us….

  • Julisa Cordero

    If NYPD is racist then why do I see large gangs of color rampaging thru the streets of NYC every single day on unregistered ATV’s? Literally aiming at pedestrians, and trying to engage motorists in physical fights if they dare honk at them as they run red lights, drive against the flow of traffic, tear thru playgrounds where toddlers are playing (I see THAT one from my window at least once a week), all 50-150 of them doing wheelies as they speed past NYPD patrol cars(!), etc. Not to mention that nearly every police car I see nowadays has at least one officer of color in it – and usually both of the cops are. So, the race card is getting very old, very quickly. Start criticizing the people who look like you when they break the law and/or endanger lives instead of bashing those we pay to enforce the laws if you want to start eliminating stereotypes.

  • Julisa Cordero

    Well if you are truly concerned about them making law-abiding riders look like you’re all breaking the law, then your anger should be directed towards those who ride unregistered ATV’s in gangs of 20, 50, and even 100+ on sidewalks, thru children’s playgrounds during the afternoon (read my comment here about that – I witness it at least once week from my window), thru red lights, etc.

    When a tragedy happens, we can’t rant that it could have been prevented if we’re going to play the victims of racism when the police do things to try to prevent such tragedies. It’s easy to say BEFORE a tragedy, “Arrrrgh why are they bothering these guys? Because of their skin color? They’re just out having a good time riding!”

    Cake? Eating it too? Can’t do. Make up your minds. You’re either for safety, or not for safety. If you’re only FOR safety & prevention if the offender happens to be white. then YOU are the racist. Being a person of color is not a ticket to do anything you want without police intervention.

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  • Sassojr

    “Well if you are truly concerned about them making law-abiding riders look like you’re all breaking the law, then your anger should be directed towards [illegal riders]”

    One can be angry at two things at the same time. I can be angry at people who do illegal things, and then the police using ineffective and discriminatory actions, pretending like it’s accomplishing something.

    “It’s easy to say BEFORE a tragedy, ‘Arrrrgh why are they bothering these guys? Because of their skin color? They’re just out having a good time riding!'”

    If you look carefully at my comments (going back to other articles), I’ve NEVER said anything to suggest we should just let them ride. In fact, my first comment on this article pointed out how they found a way to stop a bicycle ride that used social media, but still can’t manage to stop illegal dirt bikes and ATVs (who also organize on social media).

    “You’re either for safety, or not for safety.”

    See previous comment about how unsafe motorcycle only checkpoints are for both riders AND officers. How are they increasing safety? Giving a few riders bogus tickets for visors and safety glasses is not doing anything for anyone’s safety.

    “If you’re only FOR safety & prevention if the offender happens to be white. then YOU are the racist.”

    Quick to bring race into it? Yes I’m a rider of color, but I literally NEVER brought race into it (again, you can read all my comments). BUT, now that we’re on that topic, many legal riders wear full helmets and full gear. This would make it nearly impossible to know a rider’s race when initiating a traffic stop. So you’re not going to hear me say motorcycle only checkpoints are racist. HOWEVER, they are discriminatory (not by race) by only enforcing laws against one group of road users. It’s kinda like Broken Windows policing. A suspect happens to be black, now the police had carte blanche to stop and frisk every black guy in that neighborhood. I will concede there are systemic racism problems (amongst other problems) that made stop and frisk MUCH worse than motorcycle only checkpoints. I’m just using it as an example of discriminatory policing.

    “Being a person of color is not a ticket to do anything you want without police intervention.”

    When did I say that? ?

  • Sassojr

    A) You seem WAY too concerned about race.

    B)”Somehow they can find resources to stop bicycles, but not dirt bikes and ATVs.”

    This is me criticizing dirt bikers and wanting them stopped.

    C) Start criticizing the people who look like you when they break the law and/or endanger lives instead of bashing those we pay to enforce the laws if you want to start eliminating stereotypes.

    Again with the race baiting. “People who like like you”. We’re not all riders of color. We’re not saying they should let dirt bikes take over the streets. I wasn’t bashing the police (in this instance). You’re allowed to criticize someone for doing a poor job. You (Julisa) are also allowed to criticize the police for allowing ATVs to run wild. You are allowed to suggest methods that you think would be more effective. You are allowed to call out methods that aren’t effective. Hell, you’re allowed to “bash” the police when they do horrible illegal things like shoot an unarmed kid (not suggesting that happened in NYC).

  • motorock

    Just remember, these ATV riders do not represent the entire motorcycle community just like not every person having the same last name as you represents you- I found a sexual assaulter, a package thief and other criminals with Cordero as their last name in a simple Google search. So, don’t think we are all the same. If anything, motorcyclists hate these gangs the most but what we hate also is the police inaction against them and their policy to harass the innocent riders instead to curtail those gangs! It just doesn’t make any sense.
    Being a POC just makes it easier for a completely legit rider to be harassed even more. No one said it was a free ticket to do anything but race makes things difficult for some people-and that has been proven with NYPD over and over again. Just facts.

  • Julisa Cordero

    You’re right. My apologies. Well said.

  • AMH

    “They ride en masse the wrong way up major avenues, they play chicken with buses and trucks.”

    And I never see drivers being more careful. “Crazy” cyclists risking their lives are an incredible calming effect on traffic.

  • Daphna

    It’s so sad that the NYPD are still trying to shut down group bike rides. Shardy Nieves will need to start posting a false date and meeting place for rides and have a whisper campaign to tell the true time and location. This is such a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars. People should be encouraged to ride, and riding in groups helps many cyclists to feel safer and have more fun.

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