The following article is about the Raid on Dupont Circle in WashingtonD.C. on June 12, 1992. The U.S. park police conducted a confiscation raidagainst bike messengers hanging out after work at Dupont Circle. The used the registration law as a ruse to remove the couriers from thepark. Police confiscated 15 unregistered bikes. One officer pointed hisbaton at the chest of a courier and yelled "Drop the fucking bike!"The courier replied, "It's not loaded." Although non-registrationis a $5 traffic offence, in this case it was treated as a criminal offence.The couriers had to pay $25 fines. With media attention and supportfrom the American Civil Liberties Union, the Superior Court returned thefines and dismissed the criminal charges.



By Shaun Sutner

Washington Post, June 25, 1992

It was a typical summer evening in Dupont Circle with office workersresting on benches and dozens of bicycle couriers lounging in the raffishstyle they exhibit whether racing down K Street or nursing a cold beerin the park.

In a flash, the calm was shattered by a black-uniformed SWAT team fromthe U.S. Park Police, that, according to couriers and police, cordonedoff park entrances, leaped over benches and seized more than 15 unregisteredbicycles from the messengers and two leisure cyclists from Arlington.

It wasn't the first such raid. Nor was it the first run-in between couriersand the Park Police -- who have long been at odds.

But in courier lore, that Friday afternoon two weeks ago will go downas the most dramatic crackdown ever, requiring about 20 officers and twovans just to hold the bicycles.

The incident enraged the couriers, a loosely knit culture of colorfulindependent contractors, who say it was a simple act of police harassmentand selective enforcement of the city's obscure bike registration law.The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating the incident.

But Park Police say their action was prompted by Dupont Circle civicleaders, who have been pressuring them to crack down on the messengersfor taking over the park on weekday afternoons and using it for publicdrinking, drug use and urination.

The big night is Friday, when as many as 100 couriers regularly convergethere to celebrate their weekly paychecks.

Drinking is illegal in Dupont Circle and Logan Circle, but legal inall other federal parks in the city.

The night of the raid, police said, one arrest was made for disorderlyconduct and 15 bicycles were confiscated. All were returned after theirowners paid $25 fines.

"I applaud what the police did and I'd like to see more of it.Our ANC has been after {the police} to enforce the law in D.C.," saidDennis Bass, chairman of the Dupont Circle Area Neighborhood Commission."I have no sympathy for people who say the messengers are being harassed.They are harassing the law-abiding people."

Kyle Pitsor of the Dupont Circle Civic Association agreed. "I'mglad they're enforcing the law. . . . Bike messengers are not exempt."

The law, in effect since 1974 and lauded by bicycle advocates as aneffective aid in recovering stolen bicycles, requires all two-wheelersin the city to be registered within 14 days of purchase. Registration costs$1 and can be done daily at any police or fire station.

Yet only about 10 percent of the District's estimated 120,000 bicyclesare registered, according to a spokesman for the city's Public Works Department,and few courier bikes are among them.

Many couriers scoff at the process, saying ID numbers can easily becovered over and that the stamping and etching of numbers on their expensivebikes damages them, something bicycle manufacturers dispute.

But other couriers say privately that the reason many messengers don'tregister their bicycles is that they ride stolen bicycles purchased ata bargain from bike thieves.

But Park Police admit that the bike confiscations were really a ruse.The real issue is drinking in the park, a special prohibition that hasbeen in effect for several years. A few small signs in the park remindvisitors of the ban.

The action was not directed only at couriers, said National Park Servicespokesman Earl Kittleman.

"We were selectively targeting those people in Dupont Circle thathave the habit of using the park to urinate, drink and use drugs. If mostof them turned out to be bike messengers, then those two groups coincide."But couriers and others see it differently.

"We were sitting here peacefully," recalled veteran courierScott Keplinger, 24, as he sat with several dozen other Spandex-clas couriers,drinking beer and commiserating, last Friday. "It's not that theydon't want us drinking. It's that they don't want us here."

Courier Eric Hopkins, 25, who had his $500 bicycle confiscated, recentlymoved here from Maine and said he didn't know about the registration law.He paid the $25 fine after walking eight miles to Hains Point, where theseized bicycles were taken.

"The issue is they took our property without justification,"Hopkins said. "I want back my $25 and a day's wages."

Peyton Page, a courier with three unregistered bicycles, was lucky,arriving in the park just after the raid. But he was no less angry: "We'rea minority population, but we're highly visible. We're easy to single out."

The real alcohol users and abusers in the park are the many homelesswho congregate there, but police leave them alone, the couriers said. Mostcouriers admit to drinking a beer or two in the park, and some even acknowledge"discreet" marijuana use, but no more than the "yuppies"who live nearby, they add.

Park Police spokesman Maj. Robert Hines said the police used the registrationlaw to get at the illegal drinking by couriers already observed by undercoverofficers.

"We know they're drinking, but unless we see it, it's a hard caseto make," he said. "We use that vehicle to help eliminate theproblem."

American Civil Liberties Union officials, who were asked to look intothe case, questioned the tactic.

"Even if bicycle messengers are illegally drinking or something,that's not a good reason for selectively enforcing a different law,"said Ira Spitzer, legal director for the ACLU national capital area chapter.

Other vocal critics include the two residents of Arlington, where bicycleregistration is optional. Both had bicycles seized and both are appealingtheir $25 fines.

Mary Katherine Dunphy, 40, a legal secretary who commutes by bicycleto her office in Dupont Circle, said she was wheeling her bicycle throughthe park when the police struck. She said she volunteered her unregisteredbicycle to the police as a gesture of "civil disobedience and solidarity"with the messengers.

"It makes my heart happy to see bike messengers in the park,"she said. "They're young rebels, young mavericks."

All bicycles in the District must be registered within two weeks ofpurchase.

To register, bring photo identification and proof of ownership to anypolice or fire station from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Cost is $1. Registration is good for five years.

The registration number is affixed by sticker to the bicycle and alsostamped or etched on the underside of bicycle.

For more information, call 202-939-8016.

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