Bountiful Bristol Bulletin

Critical Mass-A Demonstrator’s Story by nadiacatkinhillman
June 10, 2007, 11:01 pm
Filed under: police

A week last Friday around 80 people from all over Bristol met up on a beautiful sunny afternoon at the fountains for Critical Mass. Formerly very popular in Bristol, Critical Mass involves lots of people getting together on bicycles and using the space they create together to take over the roads for the length of a bike ride.


Some motorists honked supportingly, others tutted.

Being a Friday, I’m sure they just wanted an easy and comfortable drive straight back to their homes. The sheer mass really came into effect on the dual carriageway through the business district at Temple Quay. Lorries, heavy machinery from the new Broadmead development and Mercedes drivers with tan-leather interiors could only sit in their vehicles and wait whilst the cyclists carried on, enjoying the freedom of the roads, each others’ company and a little space of fume-less cycling in sunny Bristol.

After a little tour of the Stokes Croft roundabout, we headed back towards the centre. A sense of purpose and elation was definitely felt by all. Critical Mass is a loose protest about the need to rely less on motorised transport and, in anticipation of the post-peak oil city, fossil fuels. This particular style of demo really demonstrates that cycling is fun, and an easy accessible way to travel around cities. But this philosophy was clearly not shared by some of the motorists of Bristol.

As the group of us neared the fountains, two motorists became so frustrated by the speed at which bicycles move at that, independetly, they rammed two cyclists at the back of the movement, knocking them off and damaging their bikes irrepairably. And at this point, I’d say, the mass became critical. Blocking off the road for these cars, we and pedestrian witnesses demanded that they stop, calm down and pay for new wheels and bikes. People within Critical Mass then called the police and within a minute, a car and two officers were with us. We watched as, eager to get away, one driver revved up to clear the way and sped off. One cyclist tried to stop him and threw his bike in the way. So the police pounced, grabbing his hands behind his back and starting to arrest him at the side of the
road. He resisted so more officers were called, all the time the cyclists had free reign to capture the bad behaviour on cameras and video phones.

Many more police arrived in full police cars. Everyone was suddenly threatened and scared. The road, at this point, was totally blocked to all traffic and in the ensuing melee, another cyclist pushed a police woman. He was then forcibly held to the ground by, at one point, eleven officers as more police and police vehicles arrived to quell what wasn’t even the slightest hint of civil unrest or disobediance.


So after the cars who had originally knocked cyclists off bicycles had long gone, the Critical Mass was disbanded in chaos with 14 police cars, a police horse, an ambulance and a riot van remaining on the scene with scores of officers strutting around, feeling like they were doing something. In short, a rubbish end to a really positive and bright event. The police turned down the Mass’ request for officers to cycles alongside, declaring this wouldn’t be needed. Then when something did go sour, arrived with pretensions of completely unneccessary force calling a stupid number of other jumpy officers to the scene bringing violence and ugliness to an otherwise very peaceful demonstration and beautiful event.

Well done everyone there. It felt good to capture what the police do when faced something like Critical Mass and the next one is planned for the last Friday of June. Meet down by the fountains again. With these incidents firmly in mind, lets hope together that there won’t be a repeat. Critical Mass will move things forward.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

To quote yourself: “using the space they create together to take over the roads”. When you decide to block the road, you create a dangerous situation. Whatever happens after that is your own responsability. If you resist the police who are trying to clear the unlawful block, you get arrested. It’s as simple as that. You describe by yourself how “another cyclist pushed a police woman”. How on earth can you be surprised when the police returns the violence?

You eco-fundamentalists should stop thinking you own the world.

Comment by Dutch Guy

Fair comment I suppose. But restraining one cylcist with more than 10 police officers is exagerated behaviour by anyone’s standards no? And this article was sent in. I didnt write it. (Just for the record. ie. I dont think I am an ‘eco-fundamentalist’). And no-one owns the world. Or we all do.

Comment by nadiacatkinhillman

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