The Ride of the Midnight Marauder

Superbowl Sunday night, while most of New York City was at home watching TV, Little Billy not de Bored (a.k.a. Bill Brown, publisher of the situationist fanzine NOT BORED!) was arrested by the NYPD for allegedly spray-painting graffiti that denounced the outrageous pedestrian barricades that Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner Safir have installed at every intersection along 49th and 50th Streets between Fifth and Lexington Avenues in Manhattan. Little Billy is now facing felony criminal mischief charges, despite the fact that writing graffiti is a Class A Misdemeanor under New York State Penal Law.

Originally installed in December 1997 as a "holiday season" experiment, the barricades -- despite intense criticism of them by the public, the press and even the cops themselves -- have been stubbornly defended by the Mayor's Office and have not been removed. Designed to allow motor vehicles to make turns onto one-way streets without having to contend with pedestrians, the barricades must be guarded by police officers, who are supposed to see to it that pedestrians obey the signs that tell them not to cross the street between the hours of 9 am and 9 pm, despite the plainly visible "WALK" signal. Significantly, the barricades-and-cops "solution" to the problem of hypercongestion in midtown was not presented or approved of by the Department of Transportation, under whose jurisdiction matters such as this should fall. The idea of the barbaric barricades was hatched by top bureaucrats in the Police Department, in collaboration with the Mayor -- in other words, by people totally unskilled in the areas of traffic management and urban planning, but deeply interested in advanced techniques of social control.

The intersection at Madison and 50th Street (the one at which Little Billy was apprehended) is quite obviously badly designed, like so many of our City's streets: it is the intersection of two very busy one-way streets. Bad planning such as this -- combined with the super-concentration of both pedestrian and automotive traffic -- is deadly, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists.

According to the Office of Safety Programs (NYC Department of Transportation), every year in New York City 15,000 pedestrians are struck and injured by automobiles. New York City leads the nation in pedestrian fatalities. Fully one-half of the people killed by cars are pedestrians, not other drivers. Contrary to the ravings of City Hall, the majority of the people killed aren't fast- walking jaywalkers; forty percent of them are senior citizens.

Little Billy says that the only sensible solution to ready-made traffic jams such as the intersection of Madison and 50th is to re-route all automobiles away from this intersection and the others in the city like it.

Said Little Billy: "It makes absolutely no sense to try to keep throngs of pedestrians out of the intersections, especially in a city that is unique in the world in that you don't have to own a car to live here; you can rely on mass transportation and walking or a just a bicycle to get anywhere you want to go. To install barricades is to openly display symptoms of severe debilitation by the widespread, constantly reinforced and suicidal madness once known as the 'car craze.' Forget about the average driver's 'road rage' -- the politicians and bureaucrats have 'mad car disease,' which is caused by sacrificing increasingly precious public space so that cars, polluting pieces of private property, can travel to and be parked absolutely anywhere."

Not surprisingly, the barricades -- even on their own terms -- are a complete failure. Studies done at the end of January 1998 by Transportation Alternatives, a bicyclist group opposed to automotive traffic, show that automobile traffic did not move any more freely because of the barricades; traffic conditions remained gridlocked. As a result, the barricades are hated by both pedestrians and by the police officers who are assigned to enforce the no-walking zones. Both groups have been vocal in their opposition to the barricades and surprisingly clear in expressions of their feelings that the Mayor has too big of an ego to admit that the barricades are a failure and an affront. Giuliani's response to these criticisms: he got the City Council to raise the jaywalking fine from $2 to $50, and now he wants to raise it again to $100.

The first big protest against the pedestrian barricades was orchestrated by Transportation Alternatives, and featured a group of people who had dressed up as cows to express their desire not to be treated like human cattle. An essentially silly protest -- "Remooooooove the barricades!" was a typical slogan -- it nevertheless received a great deal of media attention and placed the issue of pedestrians' rights squarely in the public eye. Dissatisfied that Transportation Alternatives did not follow-up on their first demonstration, Time's Up!, a group of radical bicycle riders, organized a second demonstration in mid-January. Though the protesters were numerous, placard-bearing and quite visible (they marched back and forth in one of the intersections, but not against the new rights-of-way), the demonstration was hardly covered at all by the mainstream media. Some protestors decided that bolder steps were needed.

The week before Mr. not de Bored's arrest, the entire area in which the barricades are installed was hit by a massive graffiti attack. According to news reports that covered the attack in depth the following day, every single no-walking sign had the word "GO" painted on it; arrows were drawn on the streets pointing right through the barricades; and the phrases THE BARRICADES SUCK and BAN ALL PRIVATE CARS FROM MANHATTAN were spraypainted on the sidewalks and on the walls of buildings. While NBC's report emphasized that writing graffiti is considered vandalism and criminal mischief, both The WB Channel and New York 1 (cable) left their viewers with the definite impression that the barricades do indeed suck, and big time.

Though the District Attorney's office has yet to establish whether Little Billy was a copycat or the perpetrator of the original graffiti hit as well as the second one, the zine publisher was arrested yellow-handed (for the color of spray paint he was using was yellow), by foot patrolman Hennington as Little Billy writing "THE BARRICADES SUCK" -- though he only got as far as "THE BARRICADES S" before he was nabbed -- on the sidewalk.

Handcuffed and thoroughly searched, though not informed that he was under arrest or given his Miranda warning, Mr. not de Bored was taken to the 18th precinct at around 10:30 pm. He was held for several hours in a holding cell before being formally arrested, finally Mirandized, and interrogated at length by two detectives who'd watched too many episodes of NYPD Blue. It wasn't until 7:00 am that he was taken from the 18th Precinct to Central Booking. But -- because the arresting officer had found a bottle of prescription medication in Mr. not de Bored's possession -- he was refused by Central Booking, and sent to Bellevue Hospital for a psychiatric examination. Several hours later, handcuffed to a wheelchair and in the middle of a day room in the hospital, Mr. not de Bored was quickly judged to be sane, though he could have just as easily been judged a danger to himself and others, and detained for up to 72 hours for "observation," had the examining doctor been inclined or under orders to do so.

Returned to and finally accepted by Central Booking at around noon, Little Billy was held in the Tombs until his arraignment, which took place after the sun had gone down. At around 9 pm, he was finally released on his own recognizance and made his way home in the cold -- without his gloves, hat or winter coat, all of which had been seized as evidence by the cops. The New York Post -- not known for its populist stances on controversial issues -- wrote up Bill's arrest under the headline MIDNIGHT MARAUDER NABBED DEFACING HATED BARRICADES. Once again, it is to the hated barricades that one's attention is drawn. They are hated; and for damn good reason. They suck.

In the weeks since LB's arrest, the barricades have remained in the news, thanks in part to activists such as Robert Lederman, who got arrested on a disorderly conduct charge at an anti- barricade protest in early February. He was wearing a sign that says it all in a nutshell: "GIULIANI=POLICE STATE."

Activist criminal defense attorney Stanley Cohen has agreed to represent LB as he tries to get these absurdly trumped-up felony charges dismissed. If you would like to help out, write NOT BORED! P.O. Box 1115, New York, NY 10009-9998. Donations should be made payable to "Stanley Cohen."

If you want to show moral support, Little Billy's next court date is 27 July 1998, at 100 Centre Street, Part F, at 9:30 AM.

[Editor's note: this article first appeared in The Shadow and was attributed to Mildred Pierce.]



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