Amid recent Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raids on Midwest activists and prosecutions of anti-globalization demonstrators, the short documentary Still We Ride! (Microcosm Publishing, 2008), on the New York City Police Department’s war on Critical Mass, is worth catching for two primary reasons.
First, the film is a reminder of how law enforcement uses the concept of order to bend rules, violate rights and mislead the public in times of conflict. Freedom of speech and assembly on the streets, interviewees reminds viewers, mean nothing to police, who will often do all that is necessary to bring people in line, and let courts sort out the correctness of their actions later. In Still We Ride!, video abounds of police abusing cyclists and obfuscating as to tactics. The show of force against bicycle riders is baldly excessive and at many points brutish. Yet it is the method to this madness that is all the more alarming.
For authorities, this use of police is brilliant on many levels. Officers are rarely held accountable for such actions. No one gets fired for “tactical brutality” against an individual or pounding people with a baton in a heated situation. But the intended effect — to clear the streets and intimidate people out of disobedience — is accomplished.
Second, Still We Ride! glances on the evolution of policing from upholding laws and instead to a role of preemptive enforcement.
The documentary offers an amusing aside of a police surveillance helicopter that is, at the end of the day, not so amusing. Cops, Critical Mass activists remark, are using video monitoring and other forms of surveillance not to document crimes in progress, as has been the traditional role of such endeavors, but instead to use it in future police activities and to frighten people.
The documentary ostensibly tells the story of Critical Mass. However, a few years later, it foreshadows police activities we see in today’s headlines.
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