… Not just for Critical Mass anymore.
Riding through Central Park last Thursday, I happened across a case of overzealous policing that has come to define New York. I witnessed 5 pedicabbers, part of an industry already stressed by city regulation, receive some undue police attention from the NYC parks department. I was riding the big loop through the park near Strawberry Fields when a parks SUV pulled in the wrong direction on to the loop, taking up the center lane.
An officer stepped out into the road, and began yelling.
First, she yelled at a rider who was stopped behind someone dropping off passengers on the right side of the road. She told him to identify himself, and he pulled out both his regular ID and pedicab license. She handed off the rider to her partner in the driver’s seat, who began writing a ticket.
At this point, I was a few feet behind the car, and figured something was up, so I pulled up onto the sidewalk next to the rider. The first thing I heard was the officer in the SUV asking for the rider’s address.
“DON’T LIE!” the first officer yelled. The rider, who I later found out was named Stas, spoke with a heavy Russian accent, trying to defend himself. “I’m not lying, I just moved here!” he replied. The ticket writing went on. At this point, I pulled out my camera phone, as the first officer stepped back into the road to yell down other riders.
She immediately came across two riders coming down the road side-by-side talking. She immediately told them to park, and to pull out their IDs.
One of the two became immediately upset, clearly not looking forward to getting ticketed. He protested getting pulled over. He was met with a cold stare.
“You’re getting a ticket” the officer said, pointing to his friend, “and you’re going in handcuffs” she said, pointing to the rider complaining. “Now pull out your IDs.” Grumbling, they pulled IDs out of storage bins and backpacks. The officer moved on to another rider, who was pulling up on the right. She flagged him down, again with protests.
I never quite figured out why anyone got pulled over. At this point, I asked the first rider Stas, who had received his ticket, what he was ticketed for. He could only shrug. I walked around to take some photos on my cameraphone. I asked to talk to him, and he agreed after asking that we talk near a place where he could pick up new customers. He rode up, and I followed.
We spoke near 7th Avenue. I told him I was a journalist, quizzed him on his ticket, why he was riding, etc. Turns out he is new to New York, having just moved here two weeks ago. He didn’t remember his address off hand because it was barely familiar. We looked over his ticket, talked about ways to beat it
“I’m not planning on paying it… in Russia it is not customary to do so”
I jotted some notes and peddled back to the Parks SUV. It looked like two of the riders had peddled off, but two cabs were parked, empty in the street. I spotted two tourist looking types standing on the curb. I asked what they knew about what was going on.
“We were at the end of a 45 minute tour, and our driver was dropping us off here. We had talked about Strawberry Fields on the tour, and so he was pointing us in this direction. That officer told him he couldn’t drop us here, so we got back in. At that point, she yelled at him to stop and asked for his rickshaw license. He said he didn’t have it and they arrested him.”
I looked over to the car, and saw two heads, dimly, in the back seat. I kept talking to the tourists. They were from Alabama, on their first trip to New York.
“The whole time we were here, we kept talking about how friendly folks from New York were. And then she went and ruined it. About a mile or so ago, our driver was even talking about what a great job the Parks Department was doing.”
At this point the only riders around were cuffed in the back of the car, leaving two empty cabs and a Parks SUV blocking traffic. A few pedicabbers rode by, shaking their heads. After a few moments, the police released one of the riders, who walked back to his cab and rode off in obvious disgust. The two tourists, a father and son, waited on to find their driver: “We didn’t even get a chance to pay him – he was doing a hell of a job, and was earning his money. I want to make sure he gets paid.”
I crossed the street as the SUV pulled forward and out of the road, and a third parks officer wheeled the remaining cab to behind the car.
Cab with rider’s personal effects
With the rider still detained, the officers walked from their car to the cab. They opened the under-seat compartment and began rifling through his stuff. Towels, bags, food all spilled out onto the floorboard as they searched. I can only speculate on the rider’s consent to the search, or the motivations of the officer, but it was visible invasive. The rider’s items remained on display as bikers and other pedicabbers rode past. After a few more moments contemplating, i saw the Parks vehicle drive off (still the wrong way), leaving the third officer to wait with the cab. He was texting as he killed time with the cab. As I looked up the road where the stops occurred, I saw the two tourists shaking their heads and walking off. I snapped on my helmet and stepped over the saddle to ride off.
Another day in the life .