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by Peter Moskos

July 31, 2008

Officer assaults bicyclist (3): stupidy breaks out in groups

Leave it to Bike Snob NYC to give a beyond-the-obvious take on the take-down. Here is an edited version:

By this point most people have seen the footage of critical mass cyclist Christopher Long getting tackled by NYPD officer Patrick Pogan. This is a classic example of the eternal conflict between the younger, more progressive generation and the older, more conservative one—except of course that the rider was 29 and the officer was 22.
Similarly, the standard of what constitutes heroic behavior is also lower in 2008. The bike-tackler, Patrick Pogan, is a third-generation police officer. I wanted to know more about the Pogan family, so I strapped on my “investigative journalist” helmet and Googled vigorously for almost two full minutes. I finally uncovered this New York Times article from 1991.... I will go ahead and assume that the Pogan mentioned herein is the bike-tackler’s father:
So it would seem that tackling someone riding his bike is in 2008 what rescuing someone from a wrecked subway train with the jaws of life was in 1991, because Pogan Sr. not only stands by his son (as you’d expect him to) but is also proud of him for what he did:

"He's my son. I'm proud of him. He's third-generation that's been serving the city," said Pogan Sr., who was at home in Massapequa Park, LI, today and said he had not seen the video. "These people are taking over the streets and impeding the flow of traffic. Then you gotta do what you gotta do," said Pogan, 51.
Yet try as I might, it’s hard for me to feel outrage.... One of the most important truths I’ve learned is that where there are crowds there is stupidity. When large numbers of people get together, stupid things happen, and you’re almost always better off simply getting as far away from the crowd as possible.
One of the things that make cycling so great is that it enables you to avoid crowds and pointless delays. Few things are more satisfying than effortlessly weaving your way through a traffic jam. So while I’ll begrudge nobody his or her Critical Mass, personally I don’t understand the appeal of forming a crowd and creating a pointless delay. And it is a delay, whether you’re in a car or on a bike.

I once accidentally got caught in a Critical Mass ride while out riding. I felt like a dolphin ensnared in a tuna net. One second I was sailing along, and the next I was trapped among a bunch of people with rickety bikes rolling on wobbly, rusty brown steel rims on the verge of collapse. It was like watching a Beatles “Yellow Submarine”-esque cartoon LSD sequence where all the bicycles were rolling on pretzels.
People do need to see other people out there on bikes. They need to become accustomed to them so they learn to respect them, and they need to see how practical and effective they can be so they consider riding them themselves. Many cyclists illustrate this day after day.... Effectively, you’re a Critical Mass of one. Meanwhile, a mob of people on crappy bikes blocking traffic one day a month isn’t a “mass” at all. At best it's a party. At worst it’s effectively just one big stupid person.

Stupidity breaks out in groups, and when people gather expect stupid things to happen. You may or may not encounter a stupid person or stupid thing individually as you go about your day, but you’ll definitely encounter one in a crowd, and Christopher Long encountered one in the form of Patrick Pogan. On the other hand, intelligence travels alone, but it travels swiftly, and consequently it's not only more effective, but it also generates much better word-of-mouth.


DJK said...

I'm probably just not as cerebral as the others that read/write here... But....what is that guy talking about?

PCM said...

Any time you get groups, you get stupid sh*t. It is a good lesson to keep in mind during life. And it's why I don't take part in Critical Mass.

I just like his piece because it avoids the "all cops are heros" vs. "all cops are assholes" talk that tends to characterize most discussion on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Agreed Peter. I contribute to a couple of criminal justice-themed blogs, and I am so tired of broad generalization. I mean, I don't even partake in lawyer jokes for Christ's sake. People need to focus on the systemic issues that are making law enforcement ineffective and, all to often, a danger to civil liberties. I may wear the badge someday, so I'll put it this way. Please don't grovel or call me a hero unecessarily. But please don't act like I am a lesser human being or a demon just because I wear a uniform. When you do that, you are acting like a bigot, pure and simple.

PCM said...

That was really well said!