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Brazil: Critical Mass Bicycle Event – Accident or Homicide?

Critical Mass is an event that takes place in over 300 cities around the world, when tens, hundreds or even thousands of bikers gather in the streets to encourage the use of bicycles as an alternative form of transport to motorized and polluting vehicles.

On every last Friday of the month the city of Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, holds its own critical Mass event [pt], but on February 25, 2011, a tragedy occurred; Guilherme Valadares from the blog Papo de Homem (Man Talk) explains [pt]:

Critical Mass poster calling for the use of bicycles. Used with permission.

Critical Mass poster calling for the use of bicycles. Used with permission.

Você está dentro de um Golf preto, em Porto Alegre. À sua frente, um grupo com dezenas de ciclistas bloqueia a passagem.

Estão pedalando em menor velocidade. Aparentemente, alguma passeata ou movimento. Apressado, buzina e pede passagem. Insiste. Não consegue abrir caminho. Após três quarteirões, resolve desacelerar e tomar distância dos ciclistas. Tomar um caminho alternativo, talvez?

Não, em pleno surto psicótico, decide pisar fundo e ATROPELAR TODOS.

Imagine you're inside a black Golf [car] in Porto Alegre. In front of you, a group of dozens of cyclists are blocking your way.

They're pedaling at a slower speed. Apparently, [it's] some [kind of] march or movement. In a hurry, [you beep your] horn and ask to get through. You're insistent. You cannot get a clear path through. After three blocks, [you] decide to slow down and head away from the cyclists. Take an alternative route, perhaps?

No – like a psycho, [you] decide to speed up and RUN OVER THEM ALL.

Reads: "It wasn't an accident". Image by tncbaggins. free to share.

Reads: "It wasn't an accident". Image by tncbaggins. free to share.

Cristina Rodrigues, from the blog Somos Andando (We are walking) describes [pt] the “accident”:

Irritado, o dono do Golf preto acelerou e “varreu a rua”, como disse uma das participantes. Às 19h12min, jogou o carro para cima da marcha. Alguns ciclistas foram diretamente atingidos, outros se machucaram pela reação em cadeia: uma bicicleta foi derrubando outra.

Irritated, the owner of the black Golf accelerated and “swept the street”, as one of the participants said. At 19:12 pm, he drove the car up [into] the march. Some cyclists were directly hit, others were injured in a sort of chain reaction: one bicycle was dropping onto another.

This video, from Youtube user praqmelissa, with English subtitles, shows the exact moment of the ‘accident’ [update: the video has been taken down. We have replaced by the below, by Youtube user eddddddy]:

Accident or Homicide?

There were about 100 cyclists participating in the march; 12 (other sources say 20) were hit and 8 of them had injuries and were taken to hospital. The police officer responsible for the investigation, Gilberto Almeida Montenegro, was harshly criticized by netizens for blaming [pt] the cyclists for the “accident”, accusing them of disrupting traffic and of committing a “grave mistake” in failing to warn authorities that they would be riding.

On Twitter, the revolt against the police officer and the driver's attitude was immense:

@JessyAntonielle: se foi “sem intenção de matar” pq Ricardo José Neif ABANDONOU o seu carro após o incidente? #massacriticapoa

@MarceloBranco: Del. Montenegro: Q foco na investigação einh? O crime NÃO foi cometido p ciclista. Alvará p pedalar? #massacriticapoa

@luciouberdan:Será q o delegado Gilberto Almeida Montenegro d @policiacivilrs não entende q bicicleta é veículo, portanto ela é trânsito #MassaCriticaPOA

@tuliovianna :Polícia investiga atropelamento de ciclistas : Lesões culposas?! Fala sério! Isso é tentativa de homicídio doloso!

@JessyAntonielle: if it was “without intent to kill” why did Ricardo José Neif [the car driver] ABANDON his car after the incident? #massacriticapoa

@MarceloBranco: Chief of Police Montenegro: Who is the focus of the investigation? The crime wasn't committed by the cyclists. Permission to ride? #massacriticapoa

@luciouberdan: Doesn't the Chief of Police, Gilberto Almeida Montenegro of the @policiacivilrs [Civil Police] understand that a bicycle is a vehicle, therefore it's [part of the] traffic? #MassaCriticaPOA

@tuliovianna : Police investigate running over cyclists: Culpable injuries?! Seriously! This is attempted murder!

There was no lack of criticism [pt] of the local media coverage of the incident, which treated it as a mere traffic accident. Lucio Uberdan, from the blog Brasil Autogestionário (Self-organized Brazil) comments [pt]:

Um movimento que propõe a substituição do uso do automóvel pela bicicleta acaba sendo, neste contexto, uma “ação de inconsequentes”, “quixotes” enfrentando “moinhos de vento” e portanto, nada mais lógico de “acabar com a palhaçada” (talvez este tenha sido não só o pensamento do motorista que causou o acidente, mas de muitos leitores de jornal).

A movement that proposes to replace the use of cars by bikes ends up being, in this context, an “action of reckless people”, “quixotes” facing “windmills” and therefore nothing is more logical than to “stop this bullshit” (perhaps this is not only the thinking of the driver who caused the accident, but of many newspaper readers).

Marcelo in the blog of the group Critical Mass, says [pt]:

Na esquina da José do Patrocínio com a Luiz Afonso, a Massa Crítica de Porto Alegre sofreu uma tentativa de ASSASSINATO, e não se iluda quando ler ACIDENTE na RBS e afins.

At the corner of José do Patrocínio [street] with Luiz Afonso [street], Critical Mass in Porto Alegre suffered an assassination attempt, and do not be fooled when reading ACCIDENT on RBS [major media outlet in the state] and others [media outlets].
Bikes destroyed and scattered over the floor. Photo by Ivan Valente, used with author's permission

Bikes destroyed and scattered over the floor. Photo by Lucas Valente, used with author's permission

A report by Igor Natusch, from the blog Sul21 (South21) demonstrates [pt] that the running over of the cyclists was deliberate.

Helton Scheer de Moraes, in a testimony reproduced on the Critical Mass group's blog, was one of the first to be hit by the car and comments [pt]:

  • O motorista não raspou em ninguém: ele empurrou, de propósito, um ciclista/bicicleta, com seu carro, de forma ameaçadora, no mínimo uma vez logo antes do atropelamento em massa. (…)
  • Os outros não o fecharam causando o atropelamento. Ele já estava “fechado” desde o início da manifestação, ou seja, há pelo menos uns 500 metros, simplesmente pelo fato de que as bicicletas estavam circulando na pista toda, como é próprio da Massa Crítica.
  • O que CAUSOU o atropelamento foi a aceleração do veículo, de propósito, contra o grupo de ciclistas. Não houve um momento em que o atropelamento aconteceu, houve o momento em que ele começou, porque – isso eu VI E VIVI (porque fui praticamente o primeiro a ser atropelado) – logo depois de me atingir, ele levou um BOM TEMPO para percorrer um BOM TRECHO atropelando consecutivamente dezenas de bicicletas, sem desviar e sem diminuir a velocidade, de maneira muito semelhante à de uma colheitadeira em meio ao milharal, com a diferença de que, felizmente, as bicicletas e os ciclistas foram lançados para cima e para os lados, e não para baixo do carro. De novo: NÃO FOI UM ACIDENTE! FOI TENTATIVA DE HOMICÍDIO!
  • The driver didn't scratch anyone: he pushed, on purpose, a cyclist/bicycle with his car in a threatening manner at least once just before the main collision. (…)
  • The others didn't close [in around] him, causing the collision. He was already “closed in” since the start of the demonstration, i.e. at least for 500 meters, simply by the fact that the bikes were circulating throughout the street, as always occurs during a Critical Mass event.
  • What CAUSED the collision was the acceleration of the vehicle, on purpose, against a group of cyclists. There wasn't a moment in which it happened, there was the moment it started, because – I saw and lived it (I was practically the first to be hit) – right after [the car] hit me, the driver took a LONG TIME to go for a GOOD STRETCH running over consecutively dozens of bikes, without deviating and without slowing down, like ploughing through a cornfield, with the difference that, fortunately, the bikes and riders were thrown upward and sideways and not down under the car. Again:  IT WAS NOT AN ACCIDENT! IT WAS ATTEMPTED MURDER!

This video, recorded by the Youtube user guilhermeschroder shows the wounded after the incident:

A previous disagreement in which a small collision occurred, was the catalyst for the aggression. Soon after the first incident, the vehicle accelerated towards the cyclists from behind. After the assault, the vehicle fled.

The attacker's name is Jose Ricardo Neif, aged 47, who claimed to have been threatened and attacked by cyclists and accelerated the car to save his 15-year-old son and himself.

The Public Ministry of Rio Grande do Sul will prosecute [pt] him for “attempted murder, because it was a futile reason and the action made it difficult for the victims to defend themselves”. Ricardo Neif has a history of driving up streets the wrong way, driving on sidewalks and being extremely aggressive.

-It's because I'm from Porto Alegre. Cartoon by Kayser. Used with permission.

-It's because I'm from Porto Alegre. Cartoon by Kayser. Used with permission.

Cíntia Barenho concludes [pt]:

Enfim, minha solidariedade e minha indignação a todos e todas que estavam no massa crítica de ontem e foram brutalmente feridos. […] Vida longa a todos aqueles que buscam uma melhor qualidade de vida e alternativas sustentáveis de mobilidade urbana! Vida curta a todos os senhores do volantes… criminosos no trânsito!

In the end, my sympathy and my outrage goes out to all who were at Critical Mass yesterday and were brutally injured. […] Long life to all who seek a better quality of life and sustainable urban mobility alternatives! Short life for all masters of steering wheels… traffic criminals!

Lucas Valente has posted [pt] to his Facebook page several photos of injured people and destroyed bikes. The Twitter hashtags #MassaCritica, #MassaCriticaPOA (POA means Porto Alegre) and #naofoiacidente (no accident) are being used to spread news about the case.

The hashtag #MontenegroFacts was also created to criticize the attitude of the chief of police to criminalize the cyclists


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