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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bicyclists arrested during protest

Bicyclists who participated in a Critical Mass demonstration in downtown Spokane are handcuffed by police on Friday evening. 
 (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

About 10 bicyclists were arrested Friday night after their group delayed traffic in downtown Spokane.

Officers swarmed the bikers on Main Avenue near Wall Street soon after 5 p.m. and demanded that they lie on the ground.

The cyclists were handcuffed, lined up in an alley, hauled to jail and booked on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct. Their bikes were seized as evidence, Lt. Dave McGovern said.

The bicyclists, part of the Critical Mass movement, were riding in a group that had just left Riverfront Park. They said they were asserting their rights as bikers and making a point that society is too dependent on cars.

Police say they overstepped their rights when they purposely prevented cars from passing. State law says a person is guilty of disorderly conduct if he “intentionally obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic without lawful authority.”

Some participants said the police action was overkill for a peaceful gathering that at most caused a traffic delay.

“There’s a lot of things going on other than people riding their bikes down the road,” said Sara Richardson, whose son, Jonathon Sonesen, was arrested. “Two plainclothes officers grabbed two (bicyclists) off their bikes and threw them to ground.”

Police denied tackling anyone and said bicyclists followed orders to get on the ground.

McGovern said demonstrations like Friday’s could dissuade people from coming to the city’s core.

“It’s a quality of life issue for downtown, and you always have the possibility for conflict between the motorists and bicyclists,” McGovern said.

Officers had been watching the group since people began assembling at Riverfront Park about 4:30 p.m., and an officer passed out fliers that included the definition of disorderly conduct.

Participants said they had agreed to follow the law. But soon after leaving the park, at least a couple of bikers moved into a second lane of traffic. A plainclothes officer then radioed co-workers, and the event was halted.

About 10 bicyclists rode in the event and more than a dozen walkers followed on the sidewalk.

Critical Mass demonstrations are common in Seattle and Portland, where bikers meet the last Friday of each month and sometimes create traffic headaches.

The gatherings began recently in Spokane. Last month, about 10 participants received tickets for being pedestrians in the roadway after riding through downtown streets for about a half-hour.

“We were hoping that they got the message then,” McGovern said.

Sonesen, 14, the only minor arrested, defended the gathering.

“It’s not a protest, it’s more of a celebration of the bicycle culture and how it’s growing,” said Sonesen, who was released Friday.