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Posts from the "Civil Rights" Category

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Oakland’s Stimulus Flap: A Shot Across the Bow for Transport Equity?

The Obama administration's warning that the Bay Area has jeopardized federal stimulus funding for its Oakland Airport Connector project -- a story Streetsblog San Francisco has been following for months -- could have national consequences for other urban transit proposals that risk harming low-income riders, civil rights and transit advocates predicted yesterday.

HegenbergerRd_P1_HRes3000px_small.jpgThe proposed Oakland Airport Connector train. Photo: BART via Streetsblog SF

Several Bay Area advocacy groups briefed the media on the civil-rights complaint they filed against the OAC, which the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) heeded last week in a letter [PDF] that threatened to yank $70 million in stimulus money from the project unless planners comply with federal equity rules.

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, said advocates' victorious bid to push Bay Area's transit planners to examine more cost-effective and equitable alternatives to the OAC would "have a ripple effect" as other cities re-examine how their transit plans would affect lower-income and minority riders.

The FTA's decision on the OAC, described as the first of its kind, "represents government at its best," PolicyLink president Angela Glover Blackwell told reporters, adding that by "us[ing] the power of purse to make transportation agencies accountable, government shows it can be consistent with its values."

So where else are civil rights complaints playing a role in local transportation decision-making?

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Help Put an End to Parade Rules and Police Tactics That Target Cyclists

critical_mass_arrests.jpgLast Friday's assault on a Critical Mass rider -- and the attempted cover-up that followed -- has heightened public attention on police misconduct against cyclists. If you, or some other cyclist you know, have been the subject of selective enforcement or inappropriate police action, lawyers from the Five Borough Bike Club would like to hear your story. They can be reached at [lawsuitinfo] [at] [5BBC] [dot] [org], and their deadline is Friday, August 8. Here are the details:

Time is running out. The Five Borough Bike Club and several others are plaintiffs in a lawsuit which challenges New York City's attempts to suppress Critical Mass rides. The Court has given us an August 8 deadline to gather information concerning summonses, arrests and other NYPD action against bicyclists. For those of you who don't know, the suit challenges the constitutionality of recently implemented rules that require a group of 50 or more to obtain an NYPD permit before proceeding together (the "Parade Permit Rules"). The suit also challenges various other tactics that NYPD uses to target and suppress Critical Mass rides. Details on how to provide information you believe may be helpful are provided at the end of this post.

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Cop Assaults Critical Mass Rider. Charges Filed Against Cyclist.

Words fail when watching this clip of an NYPD officer forcibly knocking a Critical Mass rider to the pavement last Friday. The assault was caught on video by a bystander in Times Square. Compounding the injustice, reports Gothamist, is what happened next:

A representative for TIMES UP! tells us that the cyclist in this video was arrested, held for 26 hours, and charged with attempted assault and resisting arrest.

Mark Taylor, an attorney with the firm representing the cyclist, says he is hopeful the charges will be dropped in light of the video evidence. Asked whether the NYPD plans to go ahead with the charges, a department spokesman said the matter is being investigated. Since the video surfaced, the officer has been put on desk duty.

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At Critical Mass, Reverend Al Calls for NYPD Accountability


The Reverend Al Sharpton, the family of Sean Bell, and an all-star cast of civil liberties advocates joined cyclists in Union Square last Friday for one of the more anticipated Critical Mass rides in recent memory. The gathering, which filled up the south end of the park, came three weeks after the Reverend led hundreds of supporters in an attempt to shut down major bridges and tunnels, protesting the acquittal of the officers who shot and killed Bell.

After a roster of speakers addressed topics ranging from parade rules to police violence to gay marriage, Sharpton tied up the disparate strands with a call for mutual support in the face of NYPD misconduct:

When we can come together as Critical Mass, if we can ride together, if we can protest together, we can make this city livable for everybody together. This is the picture they don't want to see -- people of all ages and all backgrounds and all races that will stand together. Because as long as they can play one community against each other, they get through the middle. It's when we gather as historically has happened at Union Square that the powers that be have to turn and buckle... When you demand the right to ride, that is all Sean Bell was doing that night, is trying to ride. And we are going to work together to have a critical mass in this city, where we can ride in justice.

The question is: What is wrong with the morals of a city that thinks there's something wrong with men going home from their bachelor's party? They're suspect. But it's the same mentality that tells us we can't gather in a square or a park, and read and talk and discuss.

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Opposition Mounts to NYPD Assembly Rules; Rally Tonight


As the City Council takes up legislation to lift NYPD rules against public assembly, cyclists and advocates will hold a rally and press conference before tonight's Critical Mass ride.

From BikeBlog:

Critical Mass participants will be joined by a diverse group of videographers, artists, activists and politicians outraged over NYPD regulatory constraints on the civil liberties of New Yorkers. Prominent speakers from the community will participate in the "Still We Speak" rally to denounce the NYPD's First Amendment abuses, including the parade permit rules which limit the number of people who can legally assemble in a public place.

In addition to the council bill, the police department also faces a suit brought by the Five Borough Bike Club. For you legal types, here is a plaintiff's motion citing arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement by the NYPD, as illustrated in the video, along with notes and summonses from the July 2007 Critical Mass. In footage to be shown at tonight's event, officers are seen roughing up and detaining citizens for taking pictures and video of police action in Times Square during the March 2007 ride.

Tonight's events start at Union Square North at 7:00 p.m.

Video: rusticumjudicium/YouTube

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Mendez Bill Would Overturn NYPD Parade Rules

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A cyclist is ticketed during Critical Mass last spring

City Council Member Rosie Mendez has introduced a bill to overturn the NYPD's parade permit rules, which require groups of over 50 to obtain a permit before assembling. Enacted a year ago, the rules were seen as a way for the city to subvert Critical Mass rides and have been the subject of civil rights action and at least one lawsuit.

Mendez, along with Alan Gerson and Gale Brewer, were to introduce the "First Amendment Assembly Act" yesterday. According to a media release, the bill [PDF] "decriminalizes parading without a permit and allows groups that need exceptions to various laws, such as traffic laws, to obtain such for their events."

Streetsblog has posted consistently on how the NYPD seems more intent on harassing cyclists than protecting them. And just last week Commissioner Ray Kelly got an earful from citizens who are fed up with unsafe conditions for cyclists and pedestrians.

The full press release from Mendez follows the jump.

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Peñalosa to New York Pols: BRT & Pricing Benefit Working Class


Streetfilms captured highlights of Enrique Penalosa's appearance with COMMUTE.

One of the most entrenched fallacies in the congestion pricing debate has been the assertion that blue-collar New Yorkers get the short end of the stick. The claim never withstood scrutiny, but now it is facing an especially strong counterargument from Communities United for Transportation Equity (COMMUTE), a coalition of organizations from low-income communities of color underserved by transit.

COMMUTE calls for giving poor New Yorkers better access to transit by implementing extensive, inter-borough Bus Rapid Transit corridors, funded from pricing revenues and the MTA capital budget. On Monday, they hosted an appearance by former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who described how he addressed what he calls "quality of life inequality" by improving public space for pedestrians and building the TransMilenio BRT system.

COMMUTE presented Peñalosa's story as a challenge to New York pols. "People want to see that pricing is going to benefit them directly," said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development, a COMMUTE partner. "He really demolishes the argument of electeds who oppose the plan and have 20 percent car ownership and 5 percent commuting by car in their districts."

The Pratt Center's Elena Conte brought this point home when she addressed the room following Peñalosa's Q & A

The example of Bogotá... reveals that inequities in the mass transit system can be addressed when elected leadership has the will to place the needs of the underserved above the long-established privilege of the tiny minority who drive cars

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The Human Rights Argument For BRT And Pricing

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A map produced by the Pratt Center [pdf] shows neighborhoods with a high concentration of low-income commuters with long commutes.

With congestion pricing now before the City Council, the coalition pushing it forward shows signs of strengthening at exactly the right time. One group we'll be hearing more from is Communities United for Transportation Equity (COMM.U.T.E!), a recently-formed partnership between the Pratt Center for Community Development and community organizations in low-income neighborhoods around the city. At a press event this morning, COMM.U.T.E! representatives spoke about their strategy to lobby for congestion pricing and greater funding for BRT in the MTA capital plan. 

Their campaign will call attention to stark inequities in New York City commute times. The Pratt Center has crunched 2000 Census numbers showing that two-thirds of city residents with commutes longer than one hour earn under $35,000 per year [pdf]; and that black New Yorkers face a 30 percent longer commute, on average, than white New Yorkers [pdf]. Disparities were present, if less pronounced, across other racial groups as well. Considered alongside the transit improvements that congestion pricing will make possible, the findings again pierce the argument that pricing is a regressive tax.

The problems revealed by the report are fundamentally about "human rights and dignity, rather than dry economic measures," said Joan Byron, Director of Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at the Pratt Center.

Time lost to long commutes is "corrosive to community life and family life," said Silvett Garcia, Senior Planner at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice in the Soundview section of the Bronx. "That is time people cannot spend with their families, cannot meet with their children's teachers, cannot go to community events." She noted that bus commuters in the Bronx have to transfer twice to make a trip across the borough, which takes an hour. The same trip only takes drivers ten minutes.

Byron applauded DOT's commitment to a BRT pilot program, but noted that the scale of a BRT system would have to exceed current plans to seriously address inequities in transit access. The only way to dramatically improve transit access in neighborhoods that are currently underserved, she said, is to implement congestion pricing and significantly boost MTA funding for BRT.

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Man “Tasered” and Arrested for Leaving Airport by Bike


when he Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport on his Brompton folding bicycle. He says that he was pulled over by a police officer, harassed and then shot with a Taser stun gun. He has started a blog dedicated to the case:

Immediately as I was leaving and without any warning whatsoever I was thrown off my bicycle onto the pavement. I sustained abrasion wounds to chin and arm. My helmet casing sustained a new crack, but otherwise prevented a direct blow to my head. My glasses were thrown off by the force of the impact and bounced several feet away. Officer Wingate moments later would smash them into the pavement with his boot. But first, I was jerked into an upright position, and Officer Wingate jumped to the side and ordered me Tasered by his officer in training. This, too, happened immediately and without any warning or choice whatsoever. I was then handcuffed, body searched, and luggage searched. Three additional squad cars soon arrived, including Officer Wingate's supervisor. However, my conversation with Sergeant Karsnia was abruptly cut short on the grounds that I had allegedly 'tried to take a swing' at Officer Wingate. I was handcuffed and transferred to Hennepin County Hospital, then to Hennepin County jail where I was held without charges and without bail.
Photo: Stephan Orsak's glasses.
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NYPD Raid Nets Bikes and Bystanders

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This entry on the Village Voice Blog by Laura Conaway tells the story of an NYPD raid on parked bicycles last Wednesday night. When two residents questioned the officer in charge, they were arrested:

Sparks from the NYPD's circular saws arced through the night. Police, some in plainclothes, were piling cycles by the dozen in a heap on the sidewalk. At first Robert Carnevale took still pictures, then he switched the digital camera into video mode. He approached the plainclothes lieutenant who seemed to be in charge and asked for his name. Carnevale says the officer gave his name, but got annoyed when asked to spell it. "You got my name," the officer says on the video. "I did you a favor. . . . Now I'm going to lock you up."

And he did, sending Carnavale to the pokey for 22 hours on a charge of disorderly conduct. The cop also rang up Carole Vale, a nurse who happened by and asked for an explanation. Vale spent 13 hours in a cell, on the same count. In addition to the two arrests, the NYPD collared about 15 bikes. Officers, some in plainclothes, loaded bikes into unmarked black vans. "Why is domestic spying being used on non-polluting transportation?" asked Time's Up director Bill DiPaola at a press conference today.

City code does prohibit locking a bike to anything other than a city-approved rack, but there's some dispute over whether that applies solely to abandoned bikes. The rusted carcasses of old cruisers, often picked cleaned of valuable parts, litter street signs and bike racks around the five boroughs.

Transportation Alternatives reports that the East Village police precinct, the 9th, started trying to identify and tag abandoned bikes in 2005. Cyclists generally see getting rid of useless junkers as a positive, since it leaves more room for bikes in daily use. Not surprisingly, they take less kindly to having their bikes cut loose and removed with no advance notice or information afterward about how to get them back.

Civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, representing the East 6th Street riders at the press conference today, said the raid might have been prompted by a complaint from Community Board 3. He cited a court decision from September 2005, in which a judge ruled that the city had violated the due process rights of three cyclists by clipping their locks and hauling off the bikes with no warning. "The unlawful activity here is not by the cyclists, it's by the cops," Siegel said.

OnNYTurf also covered the incident, as has Gothamist and NY1. You can view a slide show on the Village Voice Blog as well. Time's Up! is interested in hearing from other witnesses or anyone who had their lock clipped or their bike confiscated. You can email them at timesup@panix.com.

Photo: Caroline Dorn