Jailed for asking too many questions, part one

Mike Kirk saw fellow cyclists falling into the hands of police like a herd of cattle about to be butchered.

John Hoff

NNow that he is confident he won’t be charged with rioting, third-year computer science major Mike Kirk is finally willing to talk publicly about what happened at the Aug. 31 Critical Mass bike rally.

At least 19 people were arrested, including Mike, a lanky and polite blond guy whose thin frame seems to bob beneath the waves of a comfortable white sweater. Mike is from South Dakota. According to Mike, one Minneapolis police officer pointedly suggested Mike should return to South Dakota, permanently. Mike also heard one officer yell, “Take a shower, you (expletive) earth pigs.”

Mike didn’t appear entirely eager to tell his story, but appeared to trust me as the friend of a friend. On the night of the arrests, I had gone to the Hennepin County jail and made a desperate, unsuccessful attempt to arrange bail for one of the bikers. I told Mike perhaps he should try to tell a news reporter his story, but Mike said he preferred his story to appear in the opinion pages.

Munching on vegetarian tacos and drinking a big mug of beer at Burrito Loco, Mike measured his words carefully when talking about what brought him to the Critical Mass event and how he ended up getting sprayed with Mace and put in a paddy wagon for asking questions of an authority figure.

First of all, Mike doesn’t see Critical Mass bike rallies as a form of protest. On the night in question, Mike had just arrived back in town like many other students. So one reason Mike went to the bike rally was the purely social aspect.

According to Mike, there was a heavy police presence from the very onset of the event. Sure, Mike had seen police at past events, but there had always been more of a protective feeling. This time, unlike previous rallies, the police were not shielding the mass of hundreds of bikes from cars trying to pass through the rally at intersections.

Instead, in at least one instance observed by Mike, a police officer actually drove into the mass of bikes to escort a car through. And the same officer repeatedly edged his squad car into the mass of bikes.

So, Mike said, things seemed confrontational from early on. Police were also blasting sirens every couple minutes, and Mike even observed one police officer drive over a median aggressively. Yes, it was once again the very same officer, according to Mike, the one who kept edging into the mass of bikes and escorted the car through an intersection.

At some point, that same officer seemed intent on one individual out of the crowd, for reasons unknown to Mike, and drove just a foot behind the person’s bike, entering a parking lot while following that cyclist. But the biker circled around and somehow “faded back into the anonymity of 300 cyclists.”

At another point, Mike saw somebody he took to be a plainclothes police officer filming the event at an intersection.

There was a brief confrontation when one of the cyclists was stopped and speaking to police. About 150 cyclists stopped, many chanting “Let him go, let him go.” And, miraculously, police actually let the cyclist go. But some miles later, at a place Mike describes as “near LaSalle and Grant” and “east of Loring Park” there was a worse confrontation.

It started out the same way. Police were interested in somebody from the crowd, for reasons that weren’t clear to Mike. At that point, everybody stopped to see what was going on, and began to chant. This time, the situation escalated, and Mike could hear screaming and witnessed officers “putting their hands on people.” In Mike’s view, individuals were singled out in an arbitrary way.

Mike knows that many people might ask him, “Why not just leave?” Mike said he felt a responsibility to help or at least “bear witness.” There is also the practical difficulty of actually moving when many people are bunched together like cattle.

When many more police arrived and formed a “riot line,” cyclists found themselves with a mass of armed officers on both sides, yet ordered to “keep moving.”

Mike saw somebody shot with a Taser and police using some kind of spray, which the bikers referred to as “Mace.” Many of the rally participants took video with their cell phones, some of which are posted on YouTube.

Mike observed participants trying to record the license plates, badges and faces of police officers. In regard to news coverage of the event on KARE-11, Mike stated there was an instance of “interesting editing” of a video, and what viewers didn’t clearly see just then was a police officer spraying Mace at a group of people doing nothing more than “gawking.”

Like cattle being thinned out from a herd to be butchered, Mike saw fellow cyclists falling into the hands of police even as they tried to obey orders to “keep moving.” Mike was off his bike and asked a police officer, “Can I walk through here?” Mike was told to go around, and to “not cycle with other people for a while” or he could be confused for “one of them.”

Mike said, “That’s ridiculous.” Another citizen came up to talk to the policeman. Mike asked if the other citizen had to leave, too. Mike recalls the exact words which got him arrested as these: “Does he have to leave? Do we all have to leave? Can we not stay here and see this?”

Next week, I’ll tell you about Mike’s little stay in the pokey, where prisoners used playing cards made from the sides of milk cartons and asked, “What are all these white boys doing in jail?”

When I went to YouTube, I was able to view a KARE-11 story posted there and compare video in the story to raw video shot with, I assume, a cell phone. That video is tagged “critical mass minneapolis 1.” I had to view the raw video over and over to figure out the jerky and confusing action, but it was fun, actually.

I would urge readers to compare raw video to edited news coverage and then decide who to trust, an established media outlet like KARE-11 or some random peer with a cell phone posting stuff on YouTube.

The answer might surprise you.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]