NYPD Sends Law-Abiding Vietnam Vet Cyclist to the Tombs

What is it about riding a bike that makes someone such a tempting target for police harassment?

The scene last Friday night, as reported in Gothamist, was the perfect magnet for NYPD misconduct: a Critical Mass ride headed to Union Square to participate in an Occupy Wall Street action. The department’s public safety priorities were on clear display, with 40 officers escorting 30 cyclists.

It seemed to be shaping up as an uneventful ride, until the group hit Lafayette Street. As cyclists rode in the bike lane, they encountered an obstacle: a limousine, caught on camera, parked in the bike lane. After maneuvering around it, the ride turned right onto Astor Place.

For that, the police stopped Robert Nash, a veteran of the Vietnam War. The charge wasn’t clear — on video, the arresting officer stumbled over what he’d just cited Nash for — but according to Gothamist, the police cited 34 RCNY § 4-12(p). The law requires cyclists to stay in a bike lane when the infrastructure is provided, but provides two big exceptions. Cyclists may leave the bike lane to avoid unsafe conditions, like a stretch limo parked in the bike lane, or to make a turn, like the Critical Mass participants did after encountering the limo.

The charges didn’t stand up for long — Nash was released the following morning after the DA’s office opted against prosecuting — but it was enough time for him to spend a night in the Tombs, Manhattan’s downtown jail. According to Gothamist, Nash chose to go to jail rather than provide the police with his address.

None of the 40 police on Critical Mass/OWS detail ticketed the illegally parked limousine that forced the cyclists to leave the bike lane in the first place.