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Another Olympics Cycling Legacy - Critical Mass Convictions

Five of the 182 Critical Mass cyclists arrested for riding their bikes near the Olympic Park on the evening of the Opening Ceremony were finally convicted of breaching section 12 of the Public Order Act. Section 12 is intended "to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community." In this instance, the police, taking extraordinary measures under the Olympic state of exception, set up road blocks on bridges to stop the cyclists crossing the Thames, an action which caused far more serious disruption than anything the cyclists were likely to achieve, even if this was their intention.

The trial and outcome were almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media. Indeed @Jon SnowC4 managed to tweet back on 10th September ‘Official Police figs:9 arrests for the Olympics and 8 arrests for the Paralympics across all Olympic venues..with 5 million visiiting! Wow!!’ without mentioning anything about what had happened outside.

The prosecution argued that the cycle ride was a protest, whereas in reality the Opening Ceremony simply coincided with the usual monthly ride. This probably just reflects the general police attitude towards the idea of Critical Mass which they tried to ban back in 2005. In fact it was a peaceful everyday activity carried out by a large group of around 500 people with the same shared intention of riding along the public highway, made extraordinary by the bizarre attempts of the police to block bridges and confine the cyclists to the south bank of the Thames.

However, it is interesting that characterising the bike ride as a protest should make it legitimate to arrest participants as if, by definition, protest is an unacceptable activity. Exactly the same argument, that he was involved in a protest and would continue to protest, was used to justify remanding Mike Wells in custody after he was arrested at Leyton Marsh and accused of common assault, a charge which would not result in a prison term even if he was convicted.

As if to highlight the absurdity and hypocrisy of the situation, inside the stadium, even as the cyclists were being knocked off their bikes and hauled away for ‘protesting’ and breaching the Public Order Act Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony was portraying those regular law breakers the suffragettes as national heroines with even David Cameron praising the pageant as portraying Britain at its best.

In the days, weeks and months before the Olympics began and even on the same day, July 27th 2012, taxi drivers held a number of protests deliberately blocking roads and causing disruption while in years gone by hauliers and farmers have held processions and park ups on motorways and roads in Central London like Park Lane, none of which resulted in arrests, trials or convictions. The taxi protest had been planned for 5pm but was rearranged for 2pm when the police issued a banning order. No action was taken against the cabbies who were deliberately blocking the road.

As Tom Richards, a Critical Mass regular, points out in his Guardian piece the £62million set aside to develop the cycling infrastructure is the equivalent of that spent on building two miles of motorway. Maybe the treatment of highway users has something to do with the number of wheels on a vehicle. Just imagine if it had been 500 unicyclists on that bike ride.

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