British police clashed with hundreds of cyclists for allegedly riding too close to the Olympic Opening Ceremony on Friday, reports The Guardian. Police, who used pepper spray on the crowd and arrested 182 of the cyclists, claimed that the cyclists’ presence might have disrupted the Olympics, while many of the cyclists insist they had no such intentions.
After having their bicycles confiscated, the cyclists, including a 13-year-old, were handcuffed en masse and kept in concrete rooms without windows overnight due to a lack of adequate prison space. It is believed to be the United Kingdom’s largest mass detention in the past year.
Only three of the 182 cyclists were charged with a crime. The other 179 were bailed out under the stipulation that they not return within 100 meters of an Olympic venue or ride on a bicycle in a borough that is hosting the Olympic games.
Most of the cyclists were part of a Critical Mass bike ride that has passed through the same area on the last Friday of each month for the past 18 years. 300 cities celebrate a similar tradition each month with hundreds of cyclists assembling to join in their love of bicycling.
Despite Critical Mass’s regular presence in London, the police seemed to think this particular ride had an Olympics-focused political agenda. “They’ve really made it into some kind of anti-capitalist, horrible thing,” said an arrested cyclist who wished to remain anonymous. “I couldn’t care less about the Olympics.”
A 32-year-old electrician who also asked not to be identified said he was not even part of the Critical Mass assemblage. “I literally got on my bike, rode around Stratford, and just started riding up the road on my way to my friend’s house,” he said. “I was then arrested.”
Police officials say they were aware that Critical Mass passes through the area on a monthly basis and made attempts to discuss the route prior to the incident. They cited Section 12 of the Public Order Act, which permits police to “impose conditions on public processions” in order to “prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage, or serious disruption to the life of the community.”
It is not the first time British police have taken on Critical Mass. In 2008, the police tried to outlaw the event unless they were provided with advanced notice of the date, time, route, and names of the organizers. However, the House of Lords ruled that since the assemblage is a “customary procession” that has no official organizers and is not unruly, the ride could continue without police sanctions.
“People have a right to protest and it is an incredibly important part of our democracy,” said an official police statement. (But? There’s always a but.) “What people do not have the right to do is to hold a protest that stops other people from exercising their own rights to go about their business – that means athletes who have trained for years for their chance in a lifetime to compete, millions of ticketholders from seeing the world’s greatest sporting event, and everyone else in London who wants to get around.”
In other words, people are free to protest unless it is an inconvenient time like the Olympics, in which case people will be arrested en masse for giving the slightest appearance of protesting… even if protesting was not actually occurring.
“I can honestly say I had absolutely zero intention of disrupting the Olympics,” said an arrested cyclist named Henry. “I really don’t think anyone did. It was about enjoying cycling, not hating the Olympics.”
For what it’s worth, British police forces do not appear to oppose all cyclists. Both the men and women’s road races took place over the weekend, and none of the participating Olympians were arrested for potentially disrupting the Games.
Photo Credit: burge5k