On Friday night in Porto Alegre, Brazil, there was a horrific manifestation of the type of rage I was referring to.
During a peaceful Critical Mass ride on the city’s streets, a driver suddenly accelerated through the middle of the crowd at high speed. Riders piled up on the car’s hood before being thrown to the pavement. Amazingly, no one was killed. Eight people were taken to the hospital.
If you choose to do so, you can watch graphic video of the incident and its aftermath here, with English subtitles. But PLEASE BE WARNED, it is very upsetting. That’s why we decided not to embed the video here. I watched it so you don’t have to.
According to the blog of the ride’s organizers, which I am reading with the help of Google Translate, the driver is claiming he felt threatened by the group and was acting in self-defense.
From the Going Going Bike blog:
The driver has been named locally as Richard Neis, a 47-year-old resident of Porte Alegre. A statement made by Mr Neis’ lawyer, Luis Fernando Coimbra Albino, contends that Mr Neis ploughed through the cyclists after being threatened by riders at the back of the ride.
Mr Neis was travelling with his 15-year-old son in his car and Mr Albino said the instinct to protect his son may have motivated Mr Neis’ actions.
According to reports in Brazilian newspaper Zero Hour, Mr Neis’ son said that a number of cyclists had been banging on the sides of the Golf and his father had driven away at speed to get away from those people.
Mr Albino said Mr Neis would fully cooperate with any police investigation on the incident.
It is hard to imagine a situation in which a driver would have no option but to take the kind of action seen in the video. Dozens of clearly peaceful, unsuspecting riders are mowed down from behind. Some riders had noted the driver’s license plate number before he accelerated through the crowd, because he was already driving aggressively.
This is the kind of incident that everyone who has regularly ridden a bike fears — that a driver, agitated because they can’t get where they’re going at top speed, will some day choose to use their car as a deadly weapon.
It happened in Los Angeles back in 2008, when a doctor named Christopher Thompson, driving his car, got into an argument with a pair of cyclists on Mandeville Canyon Road because they were blocking his way. After honking at them and exchanging words, Thompson accelerated to get in front of them, then braked suddenly, causing one of the riders to go through his rear windshield. The other crashed. Again, amazingly, no one was killed, although the rider who went through the window had severe facial injuries. In what was seen as a victory for bicyclists’ right to share the road, Thompson got a five-year sentence.
We’ll continue to follow developments in the Brazilian Critical Mass case. It will be interesting to see what kind of a reception the “self-defense” approach gets, especially because the video is so terribly compelling.