Chaos broke loose at the intersection of The Alameda and Monterey Avenue during an otherwise peaceful Berkeley Critical Mass bicycle demonstration late Friday.
A group of parade participants—who said they were out publicizing bicycling and oil-dependency reduction—accused a Berkeley couple in their 70s of trying to run them over.
Video footage of the incident, which is available in an edited version on the Bicyclists’ Civil Liberties Union (BCLU) website and YouTube.com, captures the sights and sounds of the angry confrontation that occurred at 8:06 p.m.
It shows around 50 bicyclists crowding around a minivan and some of them rescuing bicycles which appear to be trapped under the van’s right front tire.
“People, back it up!” a man is heard shouting as people start pounding on the hood and windows of the car. “Back up the car and stop it!”
And later, “What the fuck! What’s your fucking problem!”
“How dare you people be so violent!” a bicyclist tells Marilyn Head, 70, whose husband Harlan Head, also 70, was driving the car. “Are you people drunk?” Marilyn’s reply to this line is inaudible.
“There’s the attacker!” a voice could be heard as the camera focused on a visibly shaken Head. “Get back. You are on top of three bikes.”
“I am trying to,” Head says. “My wife has the door open.” The camera zooms into the California license plate at the rear of the car, which shows a disabled sticker, and more angry voices can be heard.
“We are victims of you. I don’t care how much you love him but your husband did a very stupid thing!” a man tells Marilyn, who is standing in the street by this point.
Two children who are crying in a carriage are shown being comforted as the crowd started to clear off. No arrests were made by the Berkeley Police Department.
“Witnesses have said that the van was going west on Monterey while the bicyclists were going south on Alameda,” said Officer Wesley Hester of the BPD. “At one point the vehicles joined together. There were claims that the driver attempted to run over the cyclists and claims that the cyclists were attempting to antagonize the driver. About a dozen police arrived at the scene after being informed by the Fire Department and sorted out the incident.”
Officer Waite of the Berkeley Police Department is investigating claims made by Head, who alleged that the cycles were strategically place under his van, and those of the cyclists, who allege that Head intended to run them over.
Jason Meggs of BCLU said in a statement that “three bicycles were destroyed and two demonstrators were injured and bleeding, although they refused medical treatment at the scene.” He added that two bicyclists had reported that Head had brandished a knife at them and that many said he looked drunk.
“Unfortunately, as all too often happens, police did not protect the rights of the bicyclists despite video evidence showing the attack,” the statement read. “Police fabricated that bicyclists were ‘pushing their bicycles under the car,’ an outrageous claim. Police refused to charge the motorist. They refused to execute a citizen’s arrest. They did not search and impound the motorist’s knife, claiming he ‘had a right to protect his car.’”
Head, in a interview with the Planet Monday, described the claims of the bicyclists as “pretty wild.”
“We were driving legally when we were confronted with a large number of Critical Mass bicyclists traveling south through a red light on the Alameda,” he said. “We approached the group and stopped, at which point several of the bicyclists went berserk.”
He added that several bicyclists began rocking the van shouting, “Let’s turn the van over,” but were unable to do anything.
“My concern is twofold,” he said. “I am less concerned about the damage to my vehicle. That is repairable.” His windshield was smashed in the melee. “My main interest is in going in front of the City Council and getting a group that is quite ready to trash cars to come to terms with what the city will accept and not accept. I hope the city of Berkeley and this group using our streets could sit down and work out fundamental ground rules satisfactory to all for the use of our streets,” he continued. “Secondarily, I am concerned about the statements of Mr. Meggs which are in direct conflict with those of independent witnesses.”
On the night of the incident, Head said, he and his wife had been on their way to put their daughter—who has cerebral palsy—to bed.
Postings on YouTube vociferously condemned the bicyclists.
“Shame on you,” one message which calls the footage the “Elderly Couple Abuse Video” says. “Pushing around Grandma and Grandpa.”
“As a cyclist, I do not support your group, or the mob actions that you use to disrupt SF,” says another, comparing Friday’s incident to a similar one in San Francisco.
On March 30, Susan Ferrando of Redwood City was confronted by bicyclists in Japantown who claimed she had tried to drive through them in her minivan. While the cyclists said that Ferrando had knocked a rider to the ground, she denied the allegations. No arrests were made in this case either.
The video can be viewed at www.bclu.org/20070511.