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Stop in the name of some law or other: Critical Mass riders pulled over on Madison Avenue.

Because . . . You’re in My Way

APD tickets monthly Critical Mass bike ride; participants say cops blocked more traffic than they did

The balmy weather last Friday generated an unusually large turnout for Albany’s monthly Critical Mass bike ride. Participants estimate that 30 to 40 people, including families with children and older riders, showed up for the event, a loosely organized ride designed to celebrate nonmotorized transportation. The atmosphere was cheerful, and possibly less political than some other times, recalled Christian Schider, who has been on more than a dozen of the rides. So the events of the evening came as shock to many involved.

According to several participants, as the group pulled out of the southeast corner of Washington Park onto Madison Avenue around 5:30 PM, they were pulled over by a police sergeant in an SUV. “We were asking why was he stopping us, his first reason was basically that we were blocking traffic, and we said well we’re riding in the lane like the law, and we started quoting the law to him.”

Albany’s traffic ordinances state that bicycles may ride up to two abreast in the right lane of a roadway. Since two abreast effectively takes over the lane, Critical Mass riders say that in the past, police have usually left them alone as long as they did not take up more than one lane and followed other traffic laws. (Worldwide, the Critical Mass slogan is “We are traffic.”)

The officer, identified by several riders as Sgt. Noonan, “said he needed to figure out what the laws were, and he actually took out his law book, this pamphlet thing, and was looking it up, and was actually asking us where it was,” said participant Emily Collins.

“In other words,” added participant David Oehl, “he wasn’t pulling us over because we were breaking a law, he was pulling us over because we were inconveniencing him, and he pulled out a book to try to pin something on us.”

The officer, who appeared to the riders to be nervous at trying to confront and argue with such a large group, called for backup. “They called seven police cars over, which in my mind is stopping far more traffic than we ever would have stopped, which is the ironic part of the whole thing,” said Collins.

“There were cars double parked on Madison; there could have been higher priorities for the sergeant at the scene,” agreed Schider.

Albany Police Department spokesman Det. James Miller said the group was stopped for “impeding traffic” and “because they were in clear violation of the vehicle and traffic law of riding more than two abreast.”

Rather than continue to argue, a large subsection of the group decided to proceed with their ride. They turned north on Lark Street, and then west on Central Avenue, and according to Collins, now scrupulously stayed no more than two abreast.

Nice bike: An APD officer astride Christian Schider’s bicycle.

However, as they approached the intersection with Robin Street, another patrol car approached the group from behind. “He pulled over, kind of running right into our lane,” said Schider. “The left lane was free for cars to pass.” Schider says the officer didn’t speak to the group or tell them to pull over when he got out of the car, but “just went right for [the first person he saw] and grabbed his handlebars.” Schider, Collins, Oehl, and rider David Jimenez all said they saw that rider, Devon Hedges, dragged into the opposite lane by the officer, whom Hedges identified as Officer Herrigan.

“It was horrible because they both could have gotten killed. Luckily there were no cars coming,” said Collins. “There were young kids there—the kids were crying. It was just a really unfortunate situation.”

At this point someone suggested that the ride should end, and participants starting going their own ways. Schider continued riding north on Central Avenue, but “halfway down the block, the same sergeant who stopped us at Madison came up beside me and was pushing me into the parked cars with his car,” he recalled. “I had one hand on my handlebar and my left hand on his window, and I was yelling ‘What are you doing?’ ” Schider said he panicked and tried to turn his bicycle around, at which point the sergeant “did a 180” and “started driving right at me.” Schider said he “got off my bike and just stopped.”

Schider said he was handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car for about half an hour. He was released with traffic tickets and charges of disorderly conduct. About a half-dozen other riders were also given tickets on Central Avenue for riding more than two abreast in Washington Park.

While Schider was in the car, he and Oehl said they saw an officer riding around the street on Schider’s bicycle, an antique Schwinn. Schider said that was not the only “unprofessional” behavior he experienced: “I’m in handcuffs, I’m trying to be calm and [I’m] talking to someone who is leaning in the window and saying ‘Did you make your point? Are you saving Iraqi children? Do you own a car? Are you a hypocrite?’ ” Then, Schider said, the sergeant asked him how many tickets he’d like to have written for him. “I said ‘I didn’t do anything wrong . . . but you have the power, you can do anything you want’ and his response was ‘That’s right, I have the power.’ ”

Miller categorically denies the accounts provided by the ride participants. “You’re hearing accounts from people who were in violation of the law, so I’m sure their accounts are going to be much different from what actually happened,” he said. “The two people who were arrested, one was arrested for not complying with the officers’ commands and being very belligerent. The second arrest for disorderly conduct was for not complying with the officers’ commands and then the bicyclist took off on the officer and he had to track him down. . . . It took several officers to basically contain the situation because it also went onto Central Avenue. Something that should have been alleviated within a few minutes tied the officers up for upwards of half an hour.”

Miller added, “If there’s a complaint about the way the issue was handled, they have avenues in which they can file a formal complaint, and as of now I know of no one that has done that.”

“My impression throughout the entire incident was the police were very agitated, and nobody in the ride was,” countered Hedges. “They [the police] didn’t seem to have a clear idea of what they should be doing or how they should be responding.”

“You can tell when someone is overworked, overstressed,” noted Schider. “My advice for Albany cops is to take yoga classes.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

maxel-lute@metroland.net


What a Week

Wal-fare

Wal-Mart announced this week the creation of 10 “Wal-Mart Jobs and Opportunity Zones.” In these zones, Wal-Mart will offer local small businesses training on how to survive while competing with Wal-Mart, and will feature local businesses in its own newspaper advertising and radio spots. Wal-Mart also promised to build 50 stores in areas of need, such as neighborhoods with high unemployment and crime rates, towns with vacant malls and sites that are “environmentally contaminated.”

If Only

Hillary haters bid more than $2,500 in an eBay auction this week for the right to have their likeness used for a character in a new children’s book by Katharine DeBrecht, the ultra-right-wing author of Help! Mom! Hollywood’s in my Hamper! DeBrecht’s press materials call this character, who sends “Hillary Clunkton” to jail, “the hero who finally gives Hillary what she deserves for being bossy and constantly trying to tell families what to do.” If that deserves jail time, we know some lefties who’d love the power to make citizen’s arrests. . . .

Thinning the Herd

University of Texas biology professor Eric Pianka has succeeded in drawing attention to his claim that human overpopulation is hurting the planet, but he may not have gone about it in the most tactful manner. During two speeches about vanishing animal habitats in March, he compared the “effectiveness” of various diseases in thinning the human population. “HIV is too slow. It’s no good,” he said. He did, however, approve of airborne Ebola virus and bird flu.

Spare Parts

Scientists at Wake Forest University in North Carolina have grown new bladders from the cells of patients. The new procedure has been used to help patients with spina bifida who end up with urinary problems. Traditionally, the procedure to fix the problem has involved using a piece of the patient’s intestine, which can lead to numerous problems including organ rejection. Since the new bladders are grown out of the patient’s own cells, there is less chance they will be rejected. Scientists hope to soon be able to grow more complicated organs such as hearts and lungs.



Court of Prevention

Albany County district attorney launches basketball program to help keep youths away from gangs

On Sunday, Albany County Dis-
trict Attorney David Soares stood in front of nearly 40 middle-school-aged children in the gymnasium of the William S. Hackett Middle School on Delaware Avenue in Albany. Soares, dressed in a gray suit and holding a basketball, announced to the gathered youngsters, “I’m the best basketball player on the planet, and if I’d brought my shoes I would show you.” A few giggles leaked out of the mouths of the otherwise attentive and serious children. “What? You don’t believe me?” Soares asked. “David, I brought them!” interjected Soares’ wife from the sidelines. Soares looked around the room nervously, then matter-of-factly informed the kids, “She didn’t bring the right ones.”

Thus began Soares’ 2006 Bring It to the
Courts program, which offers Albany middle- school children basketball leagues on weekends and educational workshops and tutoring on Wednesdays after school. The program has changed since last year’s version, which focused on drawing youth to basketball tournaments. Explains Soares, “We’ve gone away from the tournament for more of a league so we see the same kids over and over again.”

Around 10 volunteers, including Ward 3 Common Councilman Corey Ellis, signed kids up, went over the program and then ran practice drills. Participants in the program will be picked up by volunteers in vans lent to the program by local churches.

A young blond boy in a white T-shirt, baggy pants and work boots sat quietly in the corner of the gymnasium watching the other children run drills. Soares approached the young man and began a conversation. The boy explained that he had caught a bus from out past Crossgates Mall to come to the event but couldn’t play because he had boots on. “You don’t have any other shoes?” asked Soares. The boy shook his head no. “We’ll have to get you some then,” replied Soares.

Soares said that for months local media outlets have been focused on violence in schools, but he insists that “the focus shouldn’t be on the schools but on the streets. It’s the violence on the streets the schools are adopting, as a result of kids walking into schools with unresolved issues. The focus should be on resolving issues on the street, and the only way you are going to be able to do that is by getting kids involved in activities so they are staying away from gangs.”

Soares said that this preventive approach is also missing from recently introduced state legislation (A.10268) that would require mandatory minimum sentencing for gang-related crimes. The new legislation would prescribe two to five years for nonviolent crimes and 10 years for violent ones. Soares said that while he is in favor of tougher sentencing, “We should also focus on prevention and intervention, especially in the area of gangs, and I think that is where this [legislation] falls a little short.” Soares added, “There is an obligation here: If you are going to create tougher penalties on a state level we should also see some prevention and intervention dollars coming from the state.”

In fact, Soares thinks Albany could be used as a testing ground to try different kinds of anti-gang programs. “The city is a perfect place for testing a lot of these initiatives,” said Soares. “Our problem is confined, for the most part, to 77 blocks in the city of Albany. It’s the perfect environment to inject prevention and intervention. It’s small enough to manage and to determine if various initiatives are working.”

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, who stopped by to ask the kids if they would be interested in taking part in a separate summer basketball league the city might start, agreed that prevention needs to be taken seriously. “We want to prevent them from getting into gangs. Let them compete out on the basketball courts.” He added, “Kids feel safe in the schools. So they should be there. They should have access to them during nonschool hours.”

As the practice groups lined up to take free throws, Soares’ toddler daughter walked up to her father and pulled his pants leg. She pointed toward the bleachers, and Soares took her hand and they walked to a seat with the rest of the onlookers.

—David King

dking@metroland.net

Small Insurance for Small Business

Federal bill to help small employers could undermine New York laws ensuring comprehensive coverage

Women all over the United States might want to take notice of a new bill—the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act—because it could take birth control and direct access to OB/GYN visits away from their health coverage. The bill is ostensibly designed to save small employers money and extend health-insurance options to employees who hadn’t had them. Introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) on Nov. 2, 2005, it received approval by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on March 15, and is awaiting consideration by the full Senate.

Under HIMMAA, small businesses and trade associations would be able to establish small-business health plans, giving them the capability to negotiate as a group with insurers about health-care prices, a benefit that big businesses, unions and government already enjoy. The sponsors of HIMMAA claim that passing this bill could save small businesses an estimated 15 to 30 percent on health-insurance costs. They also maintain that it would allow health-insurance companies to offer a wider range of plans by reforming the current jumble of varying state regulations into an easier-to-manage, multistate system.

However, that streamlining involves HIMMAA allowing SBHPs to opt out of offering any benefit that is mandated in fewer than 45 states. This could undermine New York’s Women’s Health and Wellness Act, which requires insurance plans to cover osteoporosis exams, prescription contraceptives, and breast- and cervical-cancer screening. Only 23 states have enacted contraceptive coverage laws similar to that of the Women’s Health and Wellness Act. Other New York benefits at risk include prostate-cancer screening, direct access to OB/GYN services, and diabetes monitoring, supplies and education.

“The ‘Lose Your Benefits Act’ is about protecting the bottom line of insurance companies at the expense of patients’ health,” said Patricia McGeown, president-CEO of Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood. “Here in New York, we worked hard to pass the Women’s Health and Wellness Act to correct discriminatory practices in health care. Congress should move forward on preventative health care, not backward.”

In a recent press statement, New York state’s superintendent of insurance, Howard Mills, acknowledged Congress for its commitment to reforming health insurance, but cautioned, “I must express my deep concern that [this] legislation, though laudable in intent, [has] a number of provisions that could create serious unintended consequences in New York.”

New York’s current program for small businesses and the self-employed, Healthy NY, provides affordable health insurance regardless of age, gender, occupation or health. If HIMMAA passed, it would set aside New York’s open enrollment/community-rated system, and insurers might recruit younger and healthier individuals and discriminate against older New Yorkers who are not yet eligible for Medicare or those with preexisting conditions, said Mills.

According to UHPP’s vice president of public affairs and marketing, Blue Carreker, the Women’s Health and Wellness Act was passed a couple of years ago, only to be immediately challenged by the Catholic Conference. The dispute was finally settled this year. “We spent a long time to make sure these coverages were available,” says Carreker. “Nobody wants to see them swept away.”

Carreker admitted that insurance companies might face some inconvenience when dealing with varying state regulations, but countered, “I don’t believe inconvenience is a valid reason to pass a bill that would potentially confiscate rights that we have worked so long for.”

—Katherine Lee


Overheard

Overheard:

“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.

 

Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.



Loose Ends

Two local self-published books [“DIY Books,” Nov. 17, 2005], Saving Troy and The Long Stair, have defied conventional wisdom by selling enough to enter second print runs. . . . Infuriating Mayor Gerald Jennings, the New York State Legislature took out $322 million in state aid that Gov. Pataki had promised the city of Albany through 2038 from a local government aid bill, the Times Union reported Tuesday (March 28). Much of that money was to support the hotel portion of Albany’s convention center plan [“Convention Wisdom,” March 2]. The Legislature is offering one year of extra aid, and legislators disagreed with Jennings’ assessment that this move would kill the convention center project. . . . Publishing house Crown Books has donated $100 to the Albany Public Library in memory of the late author Rodney Whitaker, aka Trevanian [“Assumed Identity,” May 26, 2005], confirming his identity. A library spokesman told the Times Union they were “delighted” with the gift



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