I love cycling, always have. I cycle to work every day that I can, and I well remember the giddy sense of liberation I had, at about the age of eight, when I realized my little bike could take me anywhere; no one would know, no one would stop me. The whole rural county I lived in was mine for the pedaling. A much bigger deal, for me, than getting my driver’s license another eight years later; and I knew, even then, that it was a much more real and substantial kind of autonomy and self-determination.
Never much liked official, sanctioned group rides, however — though Critical Mass has always been fun, precisely because it’s unofficial and so un-sanctioned that it drives the cops insane.
So I have never participated in the Five Borough Bicycle Tour (5BBT for short), a somewhat anodyne event held on the first Sunday in May here in My Fair City, Noo Yawk.
And now, I never will. This year, the organizers, a respectable, corporate-sponsored outfit called Bike New York (BNY), have decided to get with the National Irrational Panic Program (NIPP) and forbid participants from carrying backpacks, hydration packs, panniers, front or rear baskets on their bicycles… the list goes on and on.
Apparently BNY is going to hire private ‘security’ goons to enforce this policy, and these apes will confiscate any contraband items. Potential riders have been sternly warned that any items confiscated “will not be returned.”
I was quite disappointed in the response of my fellow cyclists to this enormity. Some actually liked the idea, and thought it would make them ‘safer’ in some way — though it’s impossible for me to see how. Others thought it was a little excessive and annoying but it wouldn’t stop them riding. Many were quite willing to make excuses for the management of BNY, to the effect that the New York cops “made them do it” — much as those bad old Republicans are making Obie cut Social Security benefits.
Nobody, but nobody seems to have shared my indignation.
Let’s look a bit more closely at this excuse — the Devil made ‘em do it. How, exactly, did the cops make BNY do this? Seems to be the obvious question, right? Yet nobody could, or would, answer it.
I don’t believe even the cops themselves have the power — yet — to ban, and confiscate, a backpack on a public street. Oh, okay, maybe in effect — in effect, they can do anything, of course — but not in theory.
Speaking of theory: presumably BNY itself has the power, in theory, to require anything of participants: you have to wear a helmet, you have to wear a bulletproof vest, you have to have an American flag tattooed on your ass and display it to any officious jackanapes who demands a sight of it.
It’s not clear what recourse BNY would have, in any rational society, for cases of violation. They could, I suppose, ask the bad-actor to leave and call the cops if he didn’t. But where the hell do they get off thinking they can ‘confiscate’ your stuff? And keep it?
As for the cops: I suppose they could have said, Put these bans in place or we’ll pull your permit. Again it’s not clear that they have, in theory, or even in practice, the right to make any such demand: what would be next — making the Catholic Church give every participant in the St Patrick’s parade a breathalyzer test? At the church’s expense?
But even if the cops could, in theory or practice, impose such requirements as a condition of permitting, BNY, as far as I can tell, didn’t put up any fight at all. Rather, they seem to have eagerly embraced the opportunity to be police auxiliaries — with self-awarded, more-than-police powers.
No doubt the real police love this — getting a bunch of earnest do-gooders on bikes to be more police than the police. And I’m sure the real police will be out in force, collecting overtime against their suburban mortgages, ready and eager to nightstick anybody who refuses an order from the amateur police that not even the real police are empowered to issue.
Ingenious, eh? The privatization of totalitarianism. It’s like the way freedom of speech doesn’t exist inside a shopping mall — or even in the parking lot. Private property, you know. The landlord can make whatever rules he likes. Presumably the streets given over to BNY for this tour are considered to be privatized pro tem — only official participants are allowed to be there, and official participants must comply with the organizer’s rules.
BNY has lined itself right up with this program, as far as I can tell. Of course that’s not surprising, or not entirely surprising, anyway. They’re the kind of official charity that depends on goodwill from the authorities and fears bad PR more than cholera; the kind whose notion of activism is treating a city bureaucrat or minor elected to lunch, and occasionally submitting a mild Op-End tentatively suggesting that hey, bikes ain’t so bad:
What’s a bit more puzzling to me is the craven, compliant attitude of most of my fellow-cyclsts. I suppose the only excuse you can make for them is that they’re all pretty well-educated, as that term is understood on these shores.