Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Response to August 31 Incident at Critical Mass

There was a significant incident at last Friday’s Critical Mass monthly group bicycle ride. Nineteen people were arrested, many more were pepper sprayed. The arrestees included an intern working for my office.

I have serious concerns about the police’s response on Friday, and am pushing for a formal review of both the specifics of the event and the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) plans for dealing with future nonviolent protests, especially during next year’s RNC convention.

My office will be organizing two separate meetings over the next few weeks. First, in conjunction with Council Member Lilligren’s office, we will convene a meeting between Critical Mass participants and Police Administration officials, to discuss what police policies could ease tensions and reduce confrontations at future Critical Mass events and nonviolent protests. Second, I will be inviting eyewitnesses of the incident to come and share firsthand experiences and concerns, and connect to City resources such as the Civilian Review Authority and the Civil Rights Department.

If you witnessed the event, I would like to hear from you. If you have video, audio or photographs of the event, please send them to the Civil Rights Department (673-3012), and if possible to my office as well (673-2202, If you have complaints against specific officers, even if you do not have badge numbers, contact either the Civilian Review Authority (673-5500) or the MPD’s Internal Affairs Unit (673-3074).

Here is some information I have received from the MPD about this incident:

- MPD officers requested that a State Patrol helicopter monitor the ride, even before the confrontation occurred.

- Unmarked squad cars from the MPD intelligence unit and Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department also monitored the event from the beginning.

- The MPD response to the event was not planned, and there was no incident supervisor. Officers reportedly responded to confrontational behavior by three Mass participants, and found themselves in a situation they could not control. They put out an “officer needs help,” call, which the Chief of Police has indicated is not the ideal response to this sort of event. Responding officers arrived without coordination, and, apparently afraid for the welfare of their fellow officers on site, reacted to the situation they found.

- There have been indications of police policy violations by some participating officers, even in the reports officers have filed on the incident. The Chief is analyzing these potential violations.

- Information from the incident, including squad car and helicopter video, will be made public after the investigations – both into the criminal complaints against participants and the policy violation complaints against officers – are complete. The Chief believes this will be available within several weeks.

- Officers were unaware that Critical Mass participants often hold their bicycles above their heads, and that this is not a threatening gesture but one of celebration and empowerment.

I have a number of unanswered questions and concerns about this incident that I expect to have answered over the next month or so:

- My office has heard from multiple eyewitnesses that there were two separate incidents, the first at La Salle and Grant, and the second at Nicollet and 24th. I am working to ascertain what the reason was for the second incident, and why there are no arrest addresses listed for any of Friday’s arrestees.

- Why did the police feel threatened at last month’s Critical Mass? Was it credible? What, if any, information did the police have that necessitated increased monitoring, why wasn’t there better planning and coordination done, and why was no incident supervisor assigned? My concern is that officers were potentially led to expect a more violent event than usual and were accordingly more on-edge and more likely to intervene, but lacked specific oversight that might have prevented a counterproductive intervention.

- What were the specific “threatening” or “confrontational” actions undertaken by the first arrestees? Did they make any credible threat of violence to people or property?

- I have heard from multiple eyewitnesses that some persons (including non-Critical Mass participants) were targeted for arrest, use of force and threats of arrest because they were recording the event with cameras, cell phones, and audio recording devices. How can we prevent this in the future?

- What can we learn from the other significant past confrontations between the MPD and Critical Mass, including an event last year on Hennepin Avenue, at which 3 participants were arrested, later to have their charges dismissed?

Lastly, my office is developing a list of ideas for policy improvements, from suggestions we have received from constituents and from the MPD itself. The goal of these policy improvements is to prevent unnecessary, counterproductive confrontations between MPD (and other) officers and nonviolent protestors, including Critical Mass. This is important not just from the standpoint of protecting civil liberties, but also for using our limited resources wisely and preventing unnecessary disruptions to non-participants.

- Place a supervisor in charge of the MPD presence at monthly Critical Mass rides. This officer’s role would be to help coordinate with other jurisdictions and order any MPD police interventions – and, more importantly, to prevent unnecessary and counterproductive interventions. This will provide a clear chain of command, which will help keep incidents from spiraling out of control. It will also provide those with concerns after incidents with a clear chain of accountability. The Chief has suggested this change, and I support it.

- Develop a clear set of guidelines for when police intervention is necessary, and prevent intervention when it is unnecessary, as it is so often counterproductive and escalatory. I believe that police intervention is necessary when individuals engage in violence against people or property, or disrupt traffic indefinitely.

- Clarify within the MPD’s Policies and Procedures Manual that officers are not to target those using recording equipment for arrest or use of force, confiscate or destroy recording equipment or recorded data, and establish disciplinary consequences for these behaviors. When officers attempt to prevent witnesses to police action from recording it, they not only violate those persons’ rights, but send the message that the MPD is unwilling to be held accountable for its actions. These actions of a few officers reflect badly on the MPD, and on the City as a whole.

- Specifically to Critical Mass, assign bicycle officers to monitor the situation. They have the capacity to navigate the crowd as a squad car cannot, participants tend to respond better to them, and they have been effective monitors in the past.

As concerned and disappointed as I am that these sort of incidents continue to occur, I am hopeful that the end result of last Friday’s confrontation at Critical Mass can help inform better MPD policies for dealing with nonviolent civil disobedience in the future, and will work towards this goal.


At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anthony Thompson said...

"Place a supervisor in charge of the MPD presence at monthly Critical Mass rides. "

So the City Council will help schedule the intentional and illegal disruption of traffic in its own city?

At 2:13 PM, Blogger Mark said...

There is nothing illegal about the Critical Mass events, at least no more so than all of the various traffic infractions committed on a daily basis by drivers who run red lights, exceed speed limits, fail to observe traffic signs that say or symbolize "No Turn on Red" and so on and so forth.

I'll take a Critical Mass rally over that stuff any day.

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Robin Garwood said...

No, you've missed the point entirely.

The point is that Critical Mass rides will occur, and we have two basic options for how the MPD responds to them:

A) Counterproductive interventions in which people get hurt, limited police resources from all over the City are allocated unnecessarily (slowing or preventing 911 response in neighborhoods), the City opens itself to liability for damages to persons and property, and traffic disruption is *increased*.

B) Constructive, controlled monitoring of the situation in which intervention only occurs if it is necessary (violence or credible threats of violence to persons or property, for instance) and ordered by an officer in charge.

One of these options (hint: it's the second one) will be a good use of limited police resources and keep protests of all kinds from spiraling out of control.

Again, the point you've missed is that Critical Mass and other nonviolent protests will happen with or without 'approval' from the MPD or policymakers. Our options are to force confrontations that escalate out of anyone's control, or to prevent them.

Cam's arguing for prevention.

At 2:30 PM, Anonymous anthony thompson said...

I think the point you've missed is that it reads more like an endorsement.

Forget that they are intentionally breaking the law and, apparently, confronting MPD. I can understand wanting to use police resources in the most efficient way possible.

I can even agree that arresting hundreds of people for a once-a-month illegal activity is probably not worth it.

But everything out of CM Gordon's office (including an email indicating that he would join them) reads more like an endorsement of Critical Mass' illegal activity.

Why is our City Council supporting these folks?

Thats the point.

At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Michelle Gross said...

Three thoughts:

1) Individuals who were arrested should not meet with police or other city officials without their attorney present. This includes police department representatives, city council members or others on the city, county or state payroll.

2) We are asking anyone with photos, videos or tape recordings of the incident to contact us as we are gathering evidence to be used in defense of arrestees. Please call 612-874-7867 or email to

3) Finally, for people wishing to file a complaint about police misconduct, we would advise filing only with the Civilian Review Authority (CRA). Internal Affairs has a long history of not seriously investigating complaints from community members (they upheld only 2 complaints from community members in 10 years) but we have also documented cases of retaliation for complaining.

The reality is that even if the CRA sustains the complaint, the chief won't discipline the officer but at least it will add to the officer's complaint record.

Michelle Gross
Communities United Against Police Brutality
Part of Critical Mass Legal Defense

At 6:54 AM, Blogger Peter Fleck said...

Cam, thanks for the very thoughtful post and Robin, thanks for your clarifications here in the comments.

CM rides are illegal in a strictly legal sense just as I assume a peaceful protest on a sidewalk that disrupts pedestrian traffic would also be illegal in a strict interpretation of the law. It's a tricky balance but usually tolerated. In the spirit of free speech, we tend to tolerate these types of protests.

At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anthony Ross said...

in response to anthony thompson,

I think you fail to see OUR point as Cyclists. We are NOT breaking the law.

Perhaps you should read it first before you accuse us of breaking it.

All cyclists have the EXACT same rights as any other vehicle on the road.

When riding as a group, the law allows us to ride side by side for the sake of safety.

The front of our group doesnt run reds, they wait. The rest of the pack CONTINUES thru the light as a courtesy to you and the other vehicle traffic on the road so as not to cause more congestion than is necessary for us to enjoy the ride

If any member of critical mass is seen breaking the law, then they SHOULD be issued a citation just as a vehicle would be.

But thats not what you are asking for. You are asking the city shut down critical mass which is essentially a bicycle traffic jam.

If thats what you want, than I must simply ask that the next time rush hour traffic occurs, the police arrest every vehicle driver on the road. After all, they are guilty of causing disruption of traffic, are they not?

Of course not, they ARE traffic. Just like bikes!

At 4:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Critical Mass is completely counter-productive and self righteous. These types of Police Responses should only be expected.
I have ridden bikes as my primary transportation (and income) my entire adult life.
Blocking traffic and making a giant slow moving nuisance of cyclists only goes to show that we can suck as much as drivers do (if not more).
If we are trying to peacefully co-exist with automobiles, the worst way to do so is blatantly take over the streets in protest; it's exactly the opposite of what CM says it's trying to accomplish. I have had a multitude of problems as a bike messenger trying to get through CM's giant slow moving beast to make a crucial delivery. All it does is piss people off; providing no explanation.

Your complaint is that the police have no organized plan to deal with this nuisance . . . Why should they? If CM doesn't have the respect to police itself, why should someone else come up with a way to? Is it about anarchy and power trips or is it an actual political movement that is trying to accomplish something? Petition to the government, it's their job to let these things happen whether they agree with it or not. Cop cars can block traffic for safety a lot better than some jackass holding his bike over his head.

Don't kid yourselves, it's not a demonstration, it's a ride from point A to point B.


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