Searching for Both Sides of the Bicyclist Body Slam Video

A tourist captured video of a New York City police officer body slamming a bicycle rider who was participating in a group ride through Times Square. The video posted on YouTube depicts the incident in a way that is inconsistent with the series of events described in the police officer's criminal complaint.

The bicycle rider, Christopher Long, was taking part in a monthly group ride with dozens of other riders called Critical Mass that draws attention to issues that concern bicycle riders in urban centers such as car traffic congestion and poor street layout for riders.

The criminal complaint filed by Officer Patrick Pogan states that Mr. Long “drove” his bicycle straight into him, causing Mr. Pogan's body “to fall to the ground” and “suffer lacerations" on his arms. The complaint, charging Mr. Long with attempted assault, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct, alleged that he "kicked his legs" and "flailed his arms" while stating, "You are pawns in the game, I will have your job."

In comparison, the video shows the officer taking a few steps towards Mr. Long’s oncoming bicycle. Mr. Long appears to try to dodge the approaching officer, but the officer quickens his pace, lowers his shoulder, and shoves him to the curb. Before we see him get handcuffed, the video cuts to a slow-motion version of the body slam.

This isn’t the first YouTube video captured by onlookers that has documented forceful arrests by police officers.  This video captures UCLA police officers tasering a student in a university building. In this video, known colloquially as the “don’t tase me bro!” video, several police officers try to subdue Andrew Meyer, a University of Florida student, with a taser gun after he caused a ruckus at a public forum featuring Senator John Kerry.

My first impression of the arrests depicted in these videos, including the latest bicycle rider body slam, is that police are using excessive force. Yet, these videos may only tell half the story. No matter how amateur the video seems, even deciding where to begin and end the video is an editorial decision that can dramatically influence how the conent is percieved by audiences. Context is key to understanding what really happened in each of these arrests.

For instance, in the case of the University of Florida arrest, another video showing a longer sequence of events was posted on a local news site that depicts a much different scene than the widely viewed YouTube version. In the local news version, one can see the interaction between Mr. Meyer and the officers grow tense over time. At one point, Mr. Meyer shoos the officers away and suggests he is going to “inform” the audience before he asks his question. The difference between the two videos is startling: in the first one he looks completely innocent of any wrongdoing; in the second one he seems to provoke the officers.

My question is: are their any other videos out there that put Mr. Long's arrest into perspective?

I found one clue in this March 2007 video of a Critical Mass group ride that was shot in nearly the same place from the opposite side of the street. In this video, we see multiple uniformed police officers in the middle of the street near Times Square attempting to grab riders as they go by. The riders and cops look like they are playing a serious game of red rover. Then, as an eerie prequel of the July 2008 video, a cop picks his target rider, walks slowly towards him, and then slams the rider to the ground. The reaction of the onlookers sounds like they've just seen a dark horse prize fighter take out the world champ. This video may suggest that arresting Critical Mass bicycle riders in such a fashion is common or unofficially allowed. 

But this doesn't give us the full story of the Mr. Long and Mr. Pogan collision, nor the subsequent arrest where Mr. Long allegedly flailed and threatened to get Mr. Pogan fired. If you have a video that shows another perspective, or shows the actual arrest as it happened, please link to it in our comments. I would be interested in knowing if there is another side to the story.

Until another angle is posted on the web, I can’t help but see a police officer wind up and body slam Mr. Long into the sidewalk in the middle of Times Square with dozens of camera-toting tourists gaping at him -- a patently  poor way to go about arresting someone, especially in a sea of potential inadvertent citizen journalists.

(Jason Crow is a second-year law student at Boston College Law School and a CMLP legal intern.)


Content Type: 

Subject Area: 


Bicyclist Body Slam Video

Mr. Crow critical eye is perhaps splitting some legal hairs here. I viewed all the videos and I must say that while there is the obvious difference of perspective, they all look like officers were looking to get physical with citizens. There is a fine line that civilian police have to walk between establishing their authority in a situation and applying unnecessary force. This nuance appears to be lost on some officers. However, it behooves police to use restraint in incidents where a citizen may anger an officer but that do not involve issues of public safety or acts of crime. A citizen who brandishes a shotgun and refuses to drop the weapon challenges the authority of a police officer and does so at his or her own peril. A citizen on a bicycle, even if he may have been playing chicken with an officer, is neither a serious lawbreaker nor a threat to public safety. In such cases, officers should use their training and good judgment to practice restraint and back off. The use of authority is only effective when it’s used judiciously. The officer had a choice either to avoid the incident by stepping back or to charge forward to demonstrate his position of authority. Absent issues of safety or crime, the officer used poor judgment in taking down the rider. He also removed himself from availability to provide assistance to situations that actually involved issues of safety/crime.

Likewise, officers must use restraint in the way they apply force or the amount of force applied. It’s been noted by some that the intense activity of subduing an individual can serve to elevate an officer’s adrenaline level to the point of overreaction. But knowing this, it should be (and very well may be) addressed in police training. In the case of the “don’t tase me bro!” videos, use of the taser gun continued well after the individual had been subdued.

Here’s my point: First, police officers exist to protect the public from those who choose to break the law or act in an unsafe manor. To do this admittedly dangerous job, officers are given special authority to use force when required. And no one in their right mind would deny an officers right to protect themselves (and others) by applying the force necessary to neutralize a dangerous situation. However, the use of force in situations void of crime/safety issues diminishes the effectiveness of their special authority by making them part of the incident and taking them away from their primary crime/safety mission. And second, like it or not, police officers need to lead by example. The officer who defuses a situation using his street-smarts and good judgment rather than instantly responding with force, enhances and strengthens his privileged authority by gaining community respect and cooperation. The abuse of that authority does exactly the opposite.

On a final note, as someone who works in video, I understand more than most 1) that a single video does not always show all sides of a situation; and 2) that a video can be manipulated to support a particular viewpoint. However, it’s important to understand that while two videos of the same incident from different vantage points may provide additional information, they are still subject to the same limitations.

Cop breaking the law and then lying

This cop needs to lose his job NOW and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This is insane. Nail this officer!

More on the Role of YouTube Video in Journalism

Mr. Warner,

Thanks for providing thoughtful comments on the use of force by police.  As you likely noticed, I did not provide any legal analysis of the use of force by police, nor do I know the nuances of police protocol for maintaining  order and executing arrests. I wanted to leave the legal analysis concerning the arrests to a more qualified person.

The way the bicyclist body slam video was edited to end just before Mr. Long was handcuffed sparked my interest. I thought piecing together other video that captures the incident might be enlightening, somewhat like the attempts to piece together still photographs and film from a number of onlookers who captured President John Kennedy's assassination in order to discern what transpired that fateful day.

However, it’s important to understand that while two videos of the same incident from different vantage points may provide additional information, they are still subject to the same limitations.

I agree, more videos of the same incident may not tell the whole story. Perhaps traditional media outlets can help. Googling with this in mind, I stumbled upon a related article that contemplates YouTube's role in investigative journalism. The article profiles a few videos that, in order to document human rights abuses or police misconduct, have bypassed traditional media outlets and have ended up on YouTube. The article also highlights how traditional media outlets, such as the New York Times and the New York Post, can provide context and may have offered both context and legitimacy to the bicyclist body slam video.

For another take on Critical Mass and the role of video from a legal perspective, check out these posts here and here at Prawfsblawg.

1 down, 30,000 to go

police testi-lying and attacks are routine. New media are exposing this, and for this reason, the Massachusetts courts have been encouraging police misconduct, perjury, false arrests and brutality through a thoroughly bogus interpretation of their wiretap statute.

I was falsely charged and convicted in 2002-3, and have been publishing about it ever since.

I testified in our State House about the frameup. Bob Barr approached and shook my hand afterward. ACLU Attorney Harvey Silverglate mentioned my case in a recent Boston Phoenix article. Attorney Michael Avery criticized the law as I videoed him at Suffolk School of Law. He gave the comment after I asked our Representative Michael Capuano whether Congress, which forgives all top-down wiretapping, will offer citizens some relief. Capuano said he did not know about the problem at that time, but seemed very interested.

Police ALMOST NEVER go after one of their own. When they do, it's a pawn-sacrifice. Do not let them satisfy our justifiable blood lust with a pawn. We must get the whole enchilada...the unconditional RIGHT to document cops at all times.

Brian Harer's claim was that I hid my microphone while working for WMBR's No Censorship Radio program. He lied. He walked into an open mic and broke the law, threatening to sue me if I published the single photo I shot of him that day. He and Victoria Riel lied that I harassed them with a flash in their faces. Though they seized ALL my gear, and film, they had no photos of this ...because it never happened.

That particular lie was planned, because the two cops' lies agreed. The lies about other things did not even agree. But by painting me as an a-hole with that lie, the court found the rest of their lies credible.

I did not testify. My recording was not played at trial. Our appeals were denied.

I heard a rumor that Harer quit the farce force.

One down, 499 to go.

Fire the whole department.

No juror should ever believe anything colored blue. People come in all colors, black, brown, red, white, yellow, some say even purple. ..There are no blue people. Cops are not people, they are agents of the state, and, as such, are not entitled to any privacy whatsoever.

My case, and others like it (I list some) prove why this law must be changed back to its original intent...PROTECTING THE PEOPLE FROM UNCONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE.

I have more info, some of I am keeping under wraps under a court order.

Freeman Z (THE BIG LIAR) (another liar) (my professional published works)