Seattle: curtains for Critical Mass after cyclists bash back?

Seattle Post-Intelligencer blogger Monica Guzman writes that local voices are calling for the Seattle Critical Mass to be banned following a violent incident at the last ride. For a study in contrasts, let’s compare corporate and alternative media accounts of the affair. First this, from AP again via the Post-Intelligencer, July 27:

Mob of bicyclists injure motorist in Seattle
SEATTLE — A mob of bicyclists riding in Seattle with the monthly Critical Mass demonstration injured a motorist after an altercation.

Seattle Police spokesman Mark Jamieson says that on Friday between 100 and 300 bicyclists were riding down a street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, blocking traffic on both lanes, when a man and a woman in a Subaru station wagon tried to pull out of a parking spot.

But some of the bicyclists blocked them, sat on the car and began banging on the vehicle. Words were exchanged between the male driver and the bicyclists.

The driver feared being assaulted and backed up, but bumped a biker and enraged the group. In response, some of the bikers smashed the windshield and rear window. He tried to drive away but hit another bicyclist.

The car stopped a block down and the bicyclists surrounded the car. One biker punched the driver through an open window and another used a knife to slash the tires.

When the driver got out of the car a male suspect struck him with an unknown object in the back of the head. The driver was later taken to the hospital. His female companion was not injured

Jamieson says two men were arrested and police are looking for the suspect who struck the driver in the back of the head. He added police know the man’s identity.

According to the Critical Mass web site, every month, bicyclists ride to promote bicycle use and assert cyclists’ right to the road among many reasons.

Now this, from the Seattle IMC:

Driver Hits Cyclists At Critical Mass Ride
Just after 7 pm on July 25th, a group of about 100 Critical Mass cyclists was moving en masse down East Aloha, a narrow, winding arterial in an upscale neighborhood in Seattle. A man parked in a Subaru station wagon didn’t want to wait for the cyclists to pass because he had “a reservation”. Screaming for the cyclists to get out of his way, the man pulled out of a parking spot, hitting one cyclist as he backed up onto the sidewalk and then another as he accelerated forward through the group of cyclists. The driver fled the scene of the accident with one of the injured cyclists still on his roof. A group of cyclists followed the car, confronting the driver a block later at Aloha and 15th Avenue East. When the police arrived, they arrested two of the cyclists but released the driver. Police spokesman Mark Jamieson said the driver is not considered an aggressor, but a victim.

In the chaos that broke out after the cyclists were hit, some of the cyclists called 911 and others followed the driver. A group of cyclists cornered the car a block later at Aloha and 15th Avenue East. The cyclists swarmed the car, slashing tires and breaking the windows. Cyclists said their actions weren’t motivated by revenge, but rather an attempt to stop the hit and run driver from fleeing the scene or running over more riders.

The corporate media is blaming the cyclists for the confrontation, plastering headlines like “Mob of Bicyclists Injure Motorist” over a one-sided AP story. Vehicular assault is a class B felony in Washington State, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. However, the police are justifying driver’s assault on the cyclists, saying that the driver was intimidated by the Critical Mass riders. Witnesses, however, describe the driver as confrontational, not fearful. They report that the driver yelled “Get the fuck outta my way, we’ve got reservations!” before he hit the cyclists.

Although Critical Mass rides are widely publicized, the driver was enraged that he had to wait for the cyclists to pass. East Aloha street is one of the city’s designated routes for cyclists. Cyclists are encouraged to use the street to go east or west across the northern part of Capitol Hill. However, the road is narrow and has blind spots. Cyclists complain that drivers are often aggressive, tailgating cyclists or making dangerously tight passes around them. According to cyclists at the Critical Mass ride, however, the driver took things a step farther. “He snapped, Ryan McElroy said, “He deliberately hit the gas.”

One of the injured cyclists, Tom Braun, said. “I didn’t have time to get out of the way.” Tom says, that the driver, “Just accelerated forward and ran us over. This guy was extremely aggressive and irate.” The front right side of the car struck Tom and dragged him along with his bike. Luckily, he suffered no broken bones, but doctors found blood in his urine. Tom will need follow-up visits to confirm that he doesn’t have internal injuries.

Two cyclists were booked into the King County Jail for investigation of malicious mischief, and police are looking for a third man. The driver was released without charges. The police are withholding the driver’s name.

To their credit, the Post-Intelligencer did also run a more balanced report—by their own reporter, Hector Castro:

Monthly bicycle protest marred by violence
Seattle police arrested two men and are searching for a third after participants in a bicycle protest on Capitol Hill smashed a car and attacked its driver Friday night.

But one man injured in that turmoil said at least one other person should be arrested — the driver.

“He just accelerated forward and ran us over,” said Tom Braun, whose bicycle was smashed during the altercation. “This guy was extremely aggressive and irate.”

Police spokesman Mark Jamieson said the driver is not considered an aggressor, but a victim, in the chaos that broke out during the Critical Mass protest.

While acknowledging that the driver did strike some of the bicyclists, Jamieson said it appeared the man did so trying to get away from the large crowd.

“It’s completely understandable, if you’ve got a mob surrounding you, trying to get to you,” he said.

The disturbance happened at around 7:15 p.m. near East Aloha Street and 14th Avenue East. The driver was in a white Subaru with a female companion and was trying to pull out of a parking space.

At that moment a large group of riders, described to police as anywhere from 100 to 300 bicyclists, were participating in a Critical Mass demonstration.

For years, bicyclists involved with Critical Mass have gathered monthly to ride through Seattle streets in a show of support for the rights of bicyclists. For the most part, Seattle police have taken a hands-off approach to the riders, although the protest tactics include filling the streets with bikes, putting a stop to vehicular traffic.

The riders were employing this tactic just as the motorist and his companion were about to drive off, Jamieson said.

“The bicyclists were using both sides of the roadway, effectively blocking traffic,” he said.

According to what some witnesses told police, an altercation with the driver ensued and some of those on bikes began sitting on his car and hitting the vehicle, Jamieson said.

The driver tried to back up, he said, and struck a bike.

That’s when bicyclists really began attacking the vehicle.

“They broke his windshield and they broke the rear window and did some additional body damage,” Jamieson said.

The driver told officers he feared for his safety and that of his girlfriend, so he sped off, hitting other bikes and riders.

Braun was one of the bicyclists who were struck, but he disputed the official version of events, saying that the only thing happening before the driver sped off was a lot of shouting.

A frequent bicycle commuter participating in the protest ride for the first time in years, Braun said he rode up just as voices were being raised.

He was still trying to figure out what the trouble was, he said, when the driver drove through the group, hitting him on his bike.

“I didn’t have time to get out of the way,” Braun said.

He was dragged along briefly, got loose, and then the car ran over his leg. Braun said he saw another man sprawled on the hood of the car as it drove off.

Less than a block away, the driver stopped and was surrounded by bicyclists. Some spat on the vehicle, some hit it. One man punched the driver through an open window. Another took a knife and slashed the tires.

The driver got out of the vehicle, Jamieson said, and when he did so, someone behind him hit him with an object, cutting the man’s head.

When officers arrived, witnesses pointed out two men as allegedly taking part in the vandalism to the car. The men, ages 23 and 24, were both arrested and booked into the King County Jail for investigation of malicious mischief.

After most of the people had left, a witness identified another man who had departed as the one who had struck the driver in the back of the head.

He was not arrested, but officers know who he is, Jamieson said.

The driver involved in the incident was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment of his injuries, which included bruising and the cut to his head, then released, Jamieson said. The woman with him was not hurt. Jamieson did not know of any other injuries.

Braun said he went to the hospital after his wife arrived to pick him up from the scene. By then, he said, his leg was beginning to swell.

There were no broken bones, but Braun said doctors found blood in his urine and he will need to return for a follow-up visit. With his body aching and his bicycle ruined, Braun said he won’t be commuting by bike come Monday.

“I’m going to be bussing it for awhile,” he said.

See our last post on Critical Mass.