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Democratic Socialists of America

Activists Ride on Friday to Disband The NYPD’s Bike-Using ‘Goon Squad’

Police using their bicycles as weapons against protesters in Union Square last year. File photo

No more visits from the goon squad.

Environmental and racial justice activists will hold a protest ride on Friday to demand that the city disband the NYPD's Strategic Response Group, the bike-toting police battalion that responds to protests and other disorders — and whose violent tactics earned them the nickname "The Goon Squad."

The rally, which activists have dubbed "Reclaim the Ride," will start at Grand Army Plaza at 3 p.m. on Friday. Activists said that they're calling for the end of the SRG and redistribution of its bikes, the end of city contracts for police bikes, the cessation of harassment of food delivery workers and the reinvestment of money that went to the SRG into more community-focused areas. Organizers say that ride is in reaction to the SRG's role in brutally policing the anti-police brutality protests of 2020, and reclaiming bikes as a tool from people who use them as weapons.

"The idea came out of seeing and experiencing a lot of the bike policing during the protests for George Floyd last year," said Nicole Murray of the DSA Ecosocialist Working Group. "Working and advocating in transit spaces, bicycles can mean a lot of things to people. It can mean community. It can mean dignity. It can be just straight-up transportation and an income. But then seeing [this too] used so violently against people was upsetting. So we need to wrest bikes away from the state and being used in a violent way, and put them back in the hands of people who use them these positive things."

The SRG was founded as a terrorism response squad in 2015, but it has become most well-known for violent outbursts at protests, marches and recently while enforcing a curfew at Washington Square Park. The squad's patrol guide is explicitly geared towards indiscriminate use of pepper spray and violent arrests and separations of protests, which resulted in scenes of the 700-strong force constantly brutalizing New Yorkers marching against police violence throughout the summer of 2020. Things got bad enough that activists did pressure bike makers Trek and Fuji to stop selling bikes and bike equipment to police departments, which Fuji agreed to do.

Murray said last year's protest response showed that the SRG doesn't keep anyone safe and that the money the department spends on it would be better served elsewhere.

"It's a drop in the bucket compared to the whole NYPD budget, but it's enough where this money should be going to public programming to teach kids and to seniors how to ride a bike, it should be going into protected bike lanes, into safe and secure bicycle parking," she said. "We shouldn't be spending $90,000 on those dumb racing jackets the NYPD bought in preparation for the George Floyd protests. Does that keep us safe, your stupid outfits that make you look like idiots? Does that keep anybody safe? No, we saw how you used your bikes and your outfits and your helmets and and it didn't benefit anybody," she said.

Murray also pointed out that the violence committed by SRG officers with bikes, notorious enough to get singled out by Attorney General Letitia James in her lawsuit against the NYPD for its conduct, is a good argument to stop asking for police to use bikes at all.

"This idea that cops are going to sympathize with people and be a bit more part of the community if they ride bikes, it's just bullshit," Murray said. "If you read the SRG's own materials, the reason they use bikes is because they want to get into the crowd and get out, because bikes make you mobile and agile. And the bikes are considered a force multiplier, where they say one bike cop is equal to three cops with a baton. What they're telling you is that the bikes aren't for community efforts, it's for policing, New York style, which is some of the worst in the United States."

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