Gossips Hit a Nerve
We’re enduring another Critical Mass tempest in a teapot here in San Francisco. Unlike New Yorkers, who have doggedly faced down intense police and legal harassment for years now, but are still routinely arrested and have their bikes stolen month after month, we in SF have had an easy time of it. In fact, as I already posted in my last entry, the March 30 ride was fantastic, leaving from the foot of Market around 6:20 or so, twisting and turning brilliantly through downtown, whipping around City Hall and out through the Mission, all the way to the Excelsior via San Jose Ave., back through the Bayshore/Industrial district, north on 3rd Street after an intelligent regrouping at Jerrold and 3rd… by then the ride was down to about 800 or so. I left a bit later, about 8:15, as we passed 16th at 3rd, where I turned west on 16th. At that point it was still an amazing euphoric ride, full of good cheer, and nary a bad incident reported.
As I heard it from a friend who kept going, the ride went towards the ballpark, then through downtown again, into North Beach, through the Broadway Tunnel (ugh) west through Pacific Heights, before turning south again near Alta Plaza. No more than several dozen riders were left by then, and some of them apparently got into an altercation with a woman in her SUV. According to Kate McCarthy of the Bike Coalition, via my pal Joel who got her account:
“She says the typical aggressive push through the crowd by the driver was all over and done with AND THEN, after she drove a block farther, she hit a cyclist and that’s when the crowd went crazy and the lousy p’lice got involved. She heard the cop tell the injured cyclist that the only way they’d even take a report is if the guy was taking a ride in an ambulance.”
So this story gets twisted by gossip columnists for the SF Chronicle, long-time Critical Mass baiters and haters Matier and Ross. Two worse excuses for writers would be hard to find. Their bread and butter is inflaming politicians and the public over the trivial and the stupid. In this case, the woman’s car was trashed after she’d hit someone and tried to escape, but M&R wrote a piece making her sound like an innocent passerby. Even in their piece, quoting the police, she supposedly ‘tapped’ a bicycle… how does a 3,000 lb. SUV “tap” a bicycle? It was laughable when the piece was published this morning, and it’s worse now.
It seems to have set off a mini-storm of vitriol and abuse by the 101st Fighting Keyboardists of the Bay Area, sitting at their computers waiting for someone to blame for their miserable lives. Of course! Must be those goddamn bicyclists! They’re out there having a good time, free of the debt ball and chain that keeps these morons attached to their cars, jobs, and boring lives. They have friends, they’re changing life, they’re engaged in making something real and tangible and worthy…
I got a letter from someone I don’t know today, somehow expecting me to be responsible for this event. I reprint my exchange below.
I am new to San Francisco, and an avid bike rider. I have enjoyed Ccritical Mass’ rides and activities thoroughly in other cities around the country. However, after reading the San Francisco Chronicle’s article today on the outrageous and VIOLENT behavior of some of the riders acting in your name, there is no way on this great earth I would ever join the SF rides or organization.
Acting in anger, as the folks did who attacked a minivan carrying an unsuspecting family with small children, is not in keeping with the principles of non-violent resistance practiced by Critical Mass. The violence spewed by not just a few, but MANY bike-riders involved in this event is nothing less than disgusting and ridiculous, and I and others I know in this city will have nothing to do with it.
Your organization should be deeply ashamed. While I understand that Critical Mass has no official accountability due to the decentralized structure, someone on behalf of your organization owes this family, and the entire city of SF, a public apology. If you can’t agree on who should sign this apology, one idea is to circulate the apology, petition-style to get signatures from as many of your riders as possible who disagree with the horrendous actions of those acting in your name. If it were my organization (I am the Director of a statewide nonprofit based here in SF), I would also be inclined to pay for the damages incurred by this family on their vehicle in this horrific attack.
My jaw is still dropping in shock. I have rarely heard of anything more obnoxious and stupid in all my life as what happened on this fateful evening. How terrified and afraid for their lives those poor children must have been! To say nothing of the significant financial cost that this family must now bear, for no other reason than being in the wrong place at YOUR time.
I hope someone from your organization will act accordingly and responsibly to make amends in this situation. It is the only right thing to do.
Please DO NOT suscribe me to your list, I have no interest in you whatsoever.
I don’t know you and you don’t know me. Why you addressed this silly letter to me is not clear. Why do you believe a gossip column in the Chronicle has given you an accurate picture of events? I wasn’t there, having peeled off around 8:15 at 16th and 3rd, after a really remarkable, peaceful, lovely, long, mellifluous ride… How many bicyclists passed how many cars and pedestrians and bus riders without any bad vibes during the evening, preceding this apparent confrontation? Tens of thousands at least… I’m sorry for the woman and her children, but this is a wildly biased account of what happened, which neither you nor I have any real idea about…
show me any public event where there is always perfect behavior by all the participants… I can guarantee one thing: no bicyclists have ever attacked a car without serious provocation… that the gossip columnists (they are NOT news reporters, please note) tell a sob story about some poor woman and her children who were brutally attacked is a laughably inaccurate account. That just doesn’ square with any experience I’ve had here, or NYC, or Minneapolis, or Milan, or Rome, or Mexico City, or Berkeley, or anywhere I’ve ridden in Critical Mass.
All that said, if you’re so worked up and you have a statewide nonprofit (hungry for publicity I’m sure) why don’t YOU organize a petition, commending Matier and Ross for their objective reporting, lamenting the Bad Bicyclists, and raise the money? As you note, there is no one ELSE who is responsible, and since you’re so concerned that SOMEONE take that responsibility, it seems appropriate that it be YOU.
Anyway, looks like we’ll have the mayor grandstanding for a while now. At least the Bike Coalition folks did a fine job of emphasizing the incredible bias in the reporting, the missing facts about the driver hitting the cyclist, and even more importantly, stressing the overall rotten conditions for bicycling in San Francisco that prevail as an everyday reality. Another friend who I mentioned the above letter exchange with suggested that he’d be willing to make a donation to the repair when AAA starts helping covering burial costs for the cyclists who have been killed by DUI drivers in the past few years. The bizarre assumption that still prevails is that bicyclists are hazardous scofflaws (but child-like in their choice of transport) that are causing traffic problems, rather than the everyday absurdity of wall-to-wall cars being the overwhelmingly biggest problem facing urban life. The follow-up article in Thursday’s SFGate is a bit less skewed, but after fomenting this shitstorm, they’ve got some ‘pologizin’ to do… how many more cyclists are going to be hassled and even hurt in the next few days by the (male and female) macho jackasses who got their pea-brain worldviews validated by this fabricated story?