Unless you spent last summer on a desert island, you know that last July the mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown ordered his long time friend Deputy Chief of Police Dick Holder to organize a violent attack on cyclists in the monthly Critical Mass ride.
Several squads of bat wielding police ran into a crowd of cyclists and pedestrians on Market Street between 4th and 5th attacking people at random. Cyclists were knocked to the ground; a professional photographer was roughed up and had his camera taken from him. One man, a pedestrian on his way home from his job as a computer programmer, was knocked to the ground, kicked, pepper sprayed and handcuffed. The man, a childhood polio victim who had made a spectacular recovery, still walks with a cane and is in constant pain a year later as a result of the incident. None of this information has been reported by the local newspapers. Details including eye witness testimony, photographs and video stills are all available for examination at http://www.e-media.com/cm/.
On August 28, 1997, the day before the August Critical Mass ride, a van owned by JCDecaux and operated by an unlicensed driver sped through an intersection in downtown rush hour traffic, where it struck and killed a 25 year old bicycle messenger named Casey Moe. The driver walked away without so much as a traffic ticket. The San Francisco Police Department and District Attorney's office, under the direction of Terrence Hallinan, declared both the driver and the company that allowed him to operate the van without a licence to be blameless.
Before this accident, JCDecaux won an exemption from the California legislature to line San Francisco's main artery, Market Street - a part of the California Highway system - with its billboards. The principal lobbyist in their effort to change traffic safety laws for profit was Mayor Willie Brown, who is prohibited by law from representing private clients while he is in office. In addition to treating Mayor Brown and then-Director of Traffic and Parking Gavin Newsome to an all expense-paid trip to Paris, JCDecaux has also ingratiated itself to the local newspapers by giving them modern dispensers for their products and other perks.
The original press report mentioned that Moe was struck by a JCDecaux van. Twenty-four hours later, that detail was removed from all press reports. The press releases and comments from SFPD's public relations officer Sherman Ackerson helped spread the falsehood that Moe was at fault for the accident and was "driving recklessly" though not a single eye witness can be found who will verify this version of events. The Chronicle, northern California's biggest circulation newspaper, placed the site of the accident approximately 50 feet away from where it actually occurred, lending credence to the "reckless cyclist" story and obscuring the fact the collision took place either in or very near a busy crosswalk. The details of this have been thoroughly documented. You can examine photographs and other evidence for yourself at www.e-media.com/cm/erosion.html. Relevant information about the San Francisco Police department can be found at www.hrw.org/hrw/reports98/police/uspo14.htm.
Human Rights Watch, an international research group that monitors human rights abuses worldwide, recently singled out the San Francisco Police Department as one of the most poorly supervised in the nation in its 450 page study of police abuse of power in the US. Our local mayor-appointed police commission sees no reason to be concerned by any of this. In San Francisco, five cyclists were killed in 1997, up from two in 1992. As many as ten or more get "doored" every week. And thirty pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents, up from 21 the previous year.
In San Francisco, it's nearly impossible to get SFPD officers to fill out accident reports when a cyclist is involved. Those that are filed are nearly uniformly biased against cyclists, who are assumed to be at fault whenever there is a collision. At a recent Police Commission hearing, cyclists complained of cases where reporting officers have gone so far as to disregard accounts of eye witnesses and still place the cyclist as fault.
Traffic quieting, a sensible solution to the the growing problem, is not even being considered. Instead, news of the problem itself is "quieted" by the city's news media.