Monday, April 26, 2010

Candid Karma

WHEN LAST WE LEFT ex-cop Patrick Pogan in Manhattan Supreme Court on Friday, he was taking the witness stand in his own defense, testifying about what happened on July 25, 2008 that ultimately cost him his job, the day of his confrontation with a cyclist in Times Square. Today he's scheduled for cross-examination by the prosecution.

What makes this such an interesting legal case is that, before footage of the incident emerged, it was the cyclist charged with assaulting a policeman; afterward, it was the cop on the defensive, the undeniable visual record leading to Pogan facing charges of assault against the cyclist Christopher Long, as well as falsifying the arrest record -- charges that carry up to a 4-year prison sentence.

The one-minute Youtube video of the knockdown taken by a tourist has been viewed well over 2 million times. Without the video, it's "troublemaker" Long looking at jail time, with his word against a fresh-faced rookie cop in just his 11th day on the force.

The video clearly shows the cyclist trying to swerve around the stationary cop in the middle of the street, but in his testimony, Pogan would have jurors believe that, "At that point, I know he’s going to try and use that shoulder against me. He’s going to try and come through me using the force of the bicycle." Nice try. But he went on to claim that his blatantly offensive move was “to protect myself from possible injury."

Pogan, who lives in Long Island, is a walking poster boy for why all big cities should have residency laws for police and fire departments. Without this video, he'd still be on the job and bullying or even framing who knows how many otherwise innocent people. Which isn't to say the cyclist in question is an angel; Long was discharged from the Army for marijuana possession, and earlier in the trial according to the Times, he testified "that he had struck and killed an elderly pedestrian with his car in North Carolina."

But Long -- who sued the City for over a million dollars but settled for $65,000 -- isn't the one on trial here, it's Pogan, who resigned from the force when the video surfaced. On Friday he defended his admittedly "very extreme" action as necessary to stop what he called the "professional agitators" on wheels -- but his sergeant is on record saying that his instructions to Pogan were to watch, not to interfere with the demonstrators.

MY ONLY PARTICIPATION in anything resembling a critical mass ride was quite different. In the mid-1990s I would commute to work 2-3 days a week on my bike, going from Astoria, through Brooklyn via the Pulaski Bridge, then take either the Williamsburg or Brooklyn Bridge into lower Manhattan. Along the way I'd sometimes meet a mountain bike chick named Bridget who lived in Greenpoint and also worked in the City, and she told me about a ride called "Time's Up!" that started in the Village and went to Central Park to protest the presence of cars there. So being equal parts a fan of Bridget and an opponent of urban pollution, I couldn't resist, and after work one afternoon I shot down to Washington Square and met up with Bridget and a few -- emphasis on few -- other like-minded souls.

The amazing thing was that, due to trouble on previous so-called critical mass rides, we had a full-fledged police escort in the form of 3-4 scooters and 2-3 cop cars. So we had clear sailing up 6th Avenue all the way to the Park, despite having no more than 20 participants on our end, and more like 17 if I remember correctly. It gave me a chance to chat up Bridget, who looked real good on her bike, especially the way her thick brown pony tail bobbed along under her helmet.

But when we got to Central Park, the whole mood of the thing quickly changed. Some of the cyclists were getting real confrontational with drivers, who according to the cyclists were supposed to be out of the Park by 7:00 pm. The bikers were banging on the side of the cars, ordering them to leave and yelling BREATHE IN, CARS OUT! BREATHE IN, CARS OUT! I was immediately turned off by the childish behavior, because while I sympathized with what the bikers were trying to accomplish, the methods they were using to get their point across would obviously prove counter-productive; these drivers would remember being insulted, and who knows they might take it out on the next person they see riding a bicycle, perhaps running him or her off the road just for spite.

So that left a bad taste in my mouth, and I peeled off from the group shortly with Bridget as we took the Queensboro Bridge "home" -- me to Astoria, she back over the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn. I ran into her a few more times and asked her out again, but nothing became of it. I definitely never went on another protest ride, but somehow the New York critical mass movement would take off without me. And if it never reached the epic tide of the San Francisco ridership, judging by the numbers seen riding alongside Long on the Youtube video, it certainly took off from the very early stages 15 years ago when "we" could barely scrape 20 riders together in one place.

Also, according to a new survey by the group Transportation Alternatives, New York City now boasts more cycling commuters than any other city, with its 236,000 daily riders a 28 percent jump from last year -- an increase partly attributable to the 200 miles of bike lanes installed over the last three years. Ride on!


Bicycles said...

You are using my image without permission, attribution or linkback. Please take it down immediately. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Two words for you: Public Domain.