Behind the ‘spectacular success’
Shawn Carter documents the mistreatment of Critical Mass cyclists, including himself
as at the time of the official jubilee celebrations, the Olympics
have seen a severe and heavy-handed clampdown on the right to protest
- nothing must be allowed to detract from the splendour and
efficiency of the British establishment’s organisational effort.
regular monthly cycle event known as Critical Mass happened to
coincide with the July 27 Olympics opening ceremony. On the last
Friday of the month dozens of cyclists gather at an agreed point and
ride around together to symbolically “reclaim the streets of
London”. Supporters say that there is no need for police
permission, as the event is not a demonstration, but merely a
‘spontaneous cycle procession’, with the route usually being
determined by whoever happens to be at the front.
am an occasional participant in Critical Mass and the event usually
passes off without incident, but this time 182 people were arrested
simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Scores of us
were held overnight on a police bus and only released the following
morning. We had gathered south of the Thames and unusually there was
an attempt by police to prevent us crossing into central London in
one body. Police even used pepper spray near Blackfriars Bridge in
one incident, but people made their way via various routes to the
Embankment, and we headed off to the east - those at the front had
decided to go towards Stratford and the Olympic Stadium.
far as I can tell, most of those taking part were not
‘anti-Olympics’, but people who are passionate about cycling and
things like cycle lanes. Most were not intending to disrupt the
ceremony, but thought we would certainly get noticed near the Olympic
were stopped just after we crossed the Bow flyover at about 9pm and
soon found ourselves kettled in Stratford High Street. There were
about 50 in my group held near the Tesco Express, including a couple
of cyclists who were not even part of Critical Mass, but just
happened to be riding by. We were kept there for about three hours
without toilet facilities, but the police kindly told us we could go
behind a rubbish bin to urinate and we were let out one by one.
around midnight I was assigned an ‘arresting officer’, who I
later found out is based at Harlesden police station and is part of
the ‘disruption team’. Other arresting officers were from
Yorkshire. I had my photograph taken and an orange tag was attached
to my bike so that it could be identified later on.
was told to board a single-decker bus which was already full and we
were driven to Charing Cross police station. For the first time since
our arrest we had access to drink - we were offered a bottle of water
on the bus. Ours was the third bus to arrive at the station. We were
kept waiting on board until about 3am, when we were transferred to
another vehicle, this time a double-decker.
now people were complaining about the lack of food and drink - the
officers brought themselves drinks but we had nothing until about
4.30am, when we were given a hot drink. We were informed that in any
24-hour period we were entitled to two meals and one snack, but, as
we had only been detained for seven hours, everything was in order. I
found it impossible to sleep, as the bus was full and we had to
remain sitting upright. We were, however, allowed ‘comfort breaks’
- we were accompanied to the toilet by our arresting officer.
we asked how long we were going to be held on the bus, we were told
that the police station can only process so many people at a time.
They don’t normally have to deal with scores of arrested cyclists
and didn’t we know it was Friday night?
7am, things started to move at last. Those of us upstairs were taken
to the lower deck and gradually, one by one, we were escorted into
the police station. An officer typed up the details given to him
about the time and nature of my arrest and I was asked to state my
address, age, eye colour, height … I was subjected to an
airport-style search (I had to take off my shoes and belt) and the
contents of my bag were listed, put in a plastic bag and sealed. I
was kept standing throughout this lengthy process.
I was taken upstairs, where a female officer took side and front
photographs. She also took my fingerprints and the arresting officer
took a DNA sample using a swab inside my mouth. As I was not on the
electoral roll, the arresting officer telephoned the driving licence
authorities to confirm my address.
it came to my turn to be taken to the main desk, I was told the
reason for my arrest - we had been warned that a mass cycle “north
of the Thames” might result in a “threat to public safety”,
which the police had powers to prevent under section 12 of the Public
Order Act - and, although I was not charged with any offence, was
bailed until September 18. I was read out my bail conditions, which
included a ban on riding a bicycle in the borough of Newham, and
asked to sign an electronic reader to confirm I understood the
conditions. I was told my bike was at Charlton car pound and that I
would need some photographic ID to reclaim it. The officer wrote down
the address of the pound and I finally left the station just before
9am. A mere 12 hours without food or sleep.
that day I went to the car pound, but was told that the bike could
not be released until Monday July 30, as the details had “not yet
come through”. When I returned two days later I was made to wait
for three hours. Yes, once again it was a case of the police ‘only
being able to process so many people at a time’ ...
the whole thing was a thoroughly unpleasant experience. But clearly
that was the intention - a form of intimidation. Our cycle procession
was entirely peaceful and only three people were charged with minor
offences, but I am sure most of the 182 people arrested will think
very carefully before failing to heed police ‘advice’ about where
they can cycle next time.