On August 28, 2015, Ian Hespelt, a 39-year old San Francisco bicyclist, attacked a woman’s rented car with his bike lock, smashing the driver side window, and nearly missing her head. Hespelt was arrested six days later and charged with two counts of felony assault, plus a number of lesser charges. In California, felony assault is punishable by a maximum of four years in prison.
In June 2016, Hespelt pleaded guilty to felony assault and vandalism charges. On June 26, he received his sentence: The six days he spent in jail at the time of his arrest, three years of probation, a 16-week anger management course, and $1,842.72 in restitution. Pretty lenient, considering the effect a steel bike lock could have on an innocent human head.
Hespelt was one of many bicyclists who took part in a monthly exercise in two-wheeled anarchy called Critical Mass. His escape from justice is a painful reminder of the way Progressive cities tilt the playing field in favor of bicyclists. You see the evidence everywhere; in their systematic plans to convert vehicle lanes to bike lanes, eliminate parking spaces, and otherwise make law-abiding motorists feel as welcome as cigar smokers in an ICU.
One of the worst examples of this bias is San Francisco’s failure to make Critical Mass respect local laws for 24 years. In case you’re not familiar with Critical Mass, it started in San Francisco in September 1992 as an event called Commute Clot, which was soon changed to its current name. On the fourth Friday of every month, bicyclists meet on the city’s waterfront, then at the peak of commute hour, ride up Market Street, a major thoroughfare, ignore stoplights, and shut the evening commute to a virtual standstill until the last bicycle passes. This is not received well by local motorists, whose only agenda is to get the hell home to their families on a Friday night after a long work week.
From the first ride with less than 50 bicyclists, they built mass and momentum, until there were a thousand riders about a year later. In the process, they developed a tactic called corking, which goes like this: As a light along the route turns red, a few riders gradually enter the crosswalk, stopping traffic, then are joined by others, who shut it down completely, just like a beaver building a dam.
24 years of lawbreaking, interrupted by episodes of violence
This has already been mentioned, but it’s time to repeat: This illegal traffic blocking has been going on for 24 years. With almost no real attempt from San Francisco to clean it up. One exception: In July 1997, Mayor Willie Brown threatened to have bicyclists arrested for not having a parade permit. Just a few days before the event, Brown withdrew the threat, and the local papers published a city-approved route, which the Masses ignored. That Friday, with tensions high, over 5,000 bicyclists came to the event.. Verbal and physical confrontations ensued; between riders and motorists, and between riders and police. Two police were injured. The SFPD claimed over 250 lawbreakers were arrested. The bicyclists countered that the mass arrests were actually a “police riot.” They also claimed that no charges were pressed.
Ten years later, in March 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom set a new standard of weakness for dealing with Critical Mass. Near the Japan Center neighborhood, , Susan Ferrando and her husband, a suburban couple, were celebrating their daughter’s birthday. Besides Ms. Ferrando and her husband, there were five pre-teen girls in the minivan. As she pulled out of a parking lot, the van was surrounded by a rolling clot of cyclists. Ms. Ferrando claims they were on her left and right side, giving her confusing directions. A witness claims she saw the driver strike a cyclist with her van and attempt to escape. Ms. Ferrando denies this.
When she stopped at the next red light, a large crowd of cyclists surrounded her minivan, banged on her car, scratched the paint, and threw a bicycle through the rear window, causing $5,300 in damages. All while she was screaming, “There are children inside!”
In a normal city, the Mayor would make it clear that this brand of violence will be met with all necessary police force. But in April 2007, before the next scheduled ride, Newsom requested that Critical Mass riders police themselves. “It does the bicycle-advocacy community no good to have people that are aggressive and dispirit the entire movement,” Newsom said. “I would encourage the bicycle coalition to say, ‘Look, we don’t put up with this, enough is enough.”
Evidently, in San Francisco, enough is never enough. The arrests in 1997 are the only evidence I could find of San Francisco authorities making an effort to get this unpermitted demonstration under control. The next Critical Mass is scheduled for Friday, July 29, and the riders who show up have one more signal from San Francisco that anarchy is kind of cool.