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The Great Bicycle Race

LAPD Deputy Chief Maurice Moore gave a new, official version of the bicycle demonstration that netted 71 arrests last Wednesday, more than any other single event during the Democratic National Convention.

The demonstration had a permit, Moore explained to the city’s Police Commission Tuesday, but once under way, the demonstrators quickly veered off the approved route. The runaway protest soon became a bicycle race, Moore said. ”Our officers were just trying to keep up with them.“

Numerous published accounts, including one by a Chicago Tribune reporter who made the ride and was among those arrested, tell a very different story of what happened. After the group convened at the downtown library, several riders reported, police escorted them much of the way, occasionally closing intersections to cross-traffic until the bikers had passed by.

Susanne Blossom, a law student at UCLA, even explained in a letter to the Times that ”I‘m a slow rider, so I was right next to the police the entire ride.“

Apparently Blossom was faster than she realized because, according to Moore, she was the subject of hot pursuit.

Moore explained that the protest got off to a bad start when an LAPD sergeant sought to discuss details of the ride with the leaders of Critical Mass, a group that advocates more bikes and fewer cars in urban areas across the nation. According to Moore, the protest organizer broke off the talks, told the sergeant ”Fuck you,“ and the race was on.

”They were violating all kinds of laws,“ Moore said. ”They were zig-zagging across the roadway, and pedestrians had to flee for safety.“

Moore said the 20-odd LAPD bicyclists never were able to catch up with the speeding protesters, and that a mobile strike force -- department lingo for a squad of motorcycle cops -- had to be called in to corral the demonstration.

Again, demonstrators give a different account. Chicago Tribune correspondent Flynn McRoberts described ”stopping at red lights . . . and being escorted by two dozen L.A. bike cops“ before the motorized unit moved in and ”police suddenly swarmed around us and shouted, ’Put the bikes down!‘“

It might all have been a comical misunderstanding, except the bikers were slapped with charges that look like no fun at all: misdemeanor obstruction of a public way, punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, or other, lesser infractions. Court dates for some arrested in the protest have been set for next month.

--C.R.

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