Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 18th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
a documentary about Critical Mass.
Charlie Hales, the leading candidate for Portland mayor, rode undercover on Critical Mass during his previous tenure as a city council member. People who were on the 2001 ride say his presence — and his testimony about it that ran counter to the version being told by the Portland Police Bureau — had a major impact on how participants were treated. The story of Hales' involvement with the ride is part of a forthcoming documentary called Aftermass by local filmmaker Joe Biel.
Hales served as Transportation Commissioner during his stint on Portland City Council from 1993 to 2002.
Biel released an unfinished clip today that features an interview with Hales from August 2010 (when Hales was already considering a mayoral run) where he speaks about his decision to join the Critical Mass ride. "I wanted to see how people were being treated," he said.
Here's more from the interview:
"I had heard the concerns from the community about how the Police Bureau was comporting themselves... and I agreed where they [Critical Mass participants] were going from a political and policy standpoint, so there are times when it's just better to show up and be there and change the dynamic with your presence; and I thought, I can do that. Because, if a sitting city commissioner was sitting on a bike seat, going down the street and the Police Bureau knew that, they would, perhaps act differently."
And they did.
At the time, the Police Bureau was still locked into a cat-and-mouse, 'we must stop the anarchists!' mentality when it came to dealing the ride. Also speaking in the clip is veteran bike activist (now lawyer) Mark Ginsberg. Ginsberg said at the ride Hales attended undercover, the police officers were "really aggressive." When those officers reported back to city council that the riders were unruly, Ginsberg says Hales was there to disagree. "Charlie said 'No, that's not how it's happening on the street.'... He said, 'I was there' and that wasn't his experience."
Ginsberg went on to say that Hales' attendance, and his willingness to stand up to the police, helped spur a conversation at city council to revise the PPB's enforcement strategy.
Another activist who rode in many Critical Mass rides at the time, Fred Nemo, said Hales' involvement had an immediate impact: "When Charlie Hales came in, our escorts became bicycle cops instead of motorcycle cops and they spoke to us courteously and had fun on the rides. When Charlie Hales went out, it returned to apartheid."
Later in the interview, Hales elaborated on his position about Critical Mass:
"What I was concerned about was the fact that the police thought this was even a big deal at all. I thought, hey, these are just some people riding bikes. If somebody gets hurt, they'll call 911; but why don't we just leave these folks alone? And I thought that would have been a better strategy on their part."
Watch the video below:
This clip shows a side of Hales that we haven't seen on the campaign trail. On the contrary, Hales has seemed less the activist than his competitor, Jefferson Smith. I've criticized Hales for what I've sees as his attempts to perpetuate to the false narrative that "bike projects" are unfairly siphoning all of PBOT's funding and that Portland needs a "roads first" approach (which I see as code for 'stop wasting money and time on bikes'). It's great to see him in this light, as someone who is not afraid to lead based on what they truly believe in — not what they think will get them the most votes. It makes me wonder thought, why hasn't Hales mentioned his Critical Mass involvement in stump speeches? It certainly seems like something he should be proud of.