So I have never participated in a Critical Mass ride but in theory I love them. Critical Mass is a monthly bicycle ride to celebrate cycling and assert cyclist’s right to the road. Well I love bicycling and any and all who celebrate it and as a cyclist I certainly want to increase awareness about cyclist’s right to the road; I’m as sick of having “Get on the sidewalk,” yelled at me as the next bicyclist. So what’s not to love? Well as the debacle in Seattle on July 25th showed, quite a bit actually. A lot has already been written about this but for those that haven’t heard during the July 25th critical mass a driver plowed into a group of cyclists and then attempted to flee the scene. Accounts vary greatly but according to the eyewitness accounts I have read the driver made it a block before meeting another wall of cyclists where he stopped, was physically dragged from his car. His car then had the front and rear windshields busted and the tires slashed, while his passenger was still in the car. The driver was then hit in the head with an object, the accounts I read said it was a heavy metal U-lock. Wow, huh?
When I first read accounts of this of course my sympathies went immediately to the bicyclists. I’ve yet to come into contact with a car while on my bike but I have come close enough, enough times to know that it is a quite literally a life threatening experience. Even at the low speeds at which this vehicular assault took place a car can still be deadly when pitted against a fragile human body. But as I read on I couldn’t help being equally outraged at the cyclists’ response to the driver’s insane actions. Slashing tires is one thing, especially in a case like this involving assault and attempting to flee the scene. To me, and I’m sure others will disagree, slashing this driver’s tires is analogous to taking a gun away from someone on a shooting spree and disassembling it. However breaking his windows was unnecessary, vindictive and dangerous to his totally innocent passenger and assaulting him with a U-lock serves only to prove that the bicyclists have just as little regard for the safety of others as the driver did.
Now the bicyclists and their supporters are all crying foul on the police and media for treating the driver as the victim and portraying the bicyclists as a roving band of marauding thugs. I agree it is ridiculous that the driver was released and cyclists were arrested but by reacting with such extreme violence that cyclists played right into the media’s hands and gave the police a legitimate excuse to treat them as criminals. Obviously I don’t think cyclists should have to stand idly by while their friends are being run over but what did assaulting the driver get them? Nothing. Worse than nothing. Arrested. Maligned. He was already stopped and was going to have to explain his actions to the police; the U-lock assault was completely over the top. The only defense for it is the eye for an eye argument used to justify the death penalty, something I’m sure most Critical Mass riders are big supporters of, right? Right?
And what is the end result of this mess? Increased tensions, hostility and fear on all sides. That is just what this country needs, more fear, hostility and tension. To me this whole situation speaks to a societal tendency to see everything in terms of duality and to thrive, or at least thrill, off of conflict. Everyone wants to have an enemy, someone to point the finger at and say “it’s their fault stuff is messed up,” but the truth is unless you are taking active steps to create the things you want to see in this world and fix the things you see as broken it is your fault as much as it is anyone else’s. Everyone, myself included, needs to stop looking for enemies and start looking for common ground and solutions.