Last Friday’s Critical Mass was like de ja vu all over again. Just like last month, we had rain that cleared up at the last minute. As in January, we had a nice, small, intimate ride. And we also had the pleasure of media presence down at Pee Wee Herman Plaza, though as usual we couldn’t get a journalist to ride with us. (Mainstream journalists, I find, live in fear of getting bicycle grease on their lapels.)
KTVU did get a couple of good soundbites from Critical Massers:
So, the media seem to be quite interested in this question of whether the police might want to stop Critical Mass, to the point that they are wasting air time on hypothetical affirmative answers to hypothetical questions. Well, they’ll have to keep doing hypothetical journalism, because it ain’t going to happen.
The first, most obvious reason is that, as I mentioned previously, they tried it before and it didn’t work. Mayor Willie Brown famously tried to stop the ride in 1997 and ended up blowing Critical Mass up to 5000-7000 riders, rather than the usual 1 or 2000. He backpedaled on that one pretty quick.
But there’s another reason, and it has to with elementary math. Here’s how it works:
The cops like to detain and arrest people in situations where they enjoy overwhelming advantage. Every time you see an arrest happening, you see one guy detained surrounded by what appears to be dozens of guys in blue. That’s just how the SFPD rolls — they like to outnumber their opponents, and who can blame them? I’d probably want the same security in numbers if I had their job.
So let’s say they want to do this thing with Critical Mass. Probably they could cut back and limit themselves to a 5-1 ratio. 5 cops detaining, ticketing, maybe arresting 1 biker. It’s tight, but they could do it.
Well, there are at a minimum 200 people at Critical Mass, and on a warmer evening, easily over 1000. You can see right there that the department just can’t afford the time, the manpower, the expense to even put a dent in a group our size. Add to that the mobility and agility of Critical Mass, and you can see it’s a headache no cop — or no cop interested in stopping real crime — wants to bother with.
The SFPD may be a lot of things, but dumb they are not. They know that Critical Mass has become part of the colorful (and sometimes disruptive) fabric of San Francisco’s social life, and it would take a major initiative to uproot it. Without major funding and major pressure from on high, they won’t bother.
That’s why they’ve tolerated us for so long, and why they’ll likely continue to do so.