Critical Mass Tensions With Cops Grow After Arrest, Hit-and-Run

Critical Mass Miami has blown up over the past year. The last-Friday-of-the-month rides now regularly draw more than 2,000 cyclists at a time, and even celebs such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Gabrielle Union have shown up.

But there are signs the movement is experiencing growing pains, not least of all growing tension with cops. During the June 28 ride, Miami Police officers were booed and pelted with trash after arresting local chef Aleric "AJ" Constantin for selling ice cream out of a cart on his bicycle. "I basically spent a day and a half in jail for selling ice cream," Constantin says. "Pretty much from the get-go, the officers seemed really focused on breaking up the whole mass."

Elsewhere on the ride, a father and son say police were less than helpful when a Mount Sinai Hospital surgeon hit the pair with his Mercedes and then drove off.

Critical Mass rides, which are staged in hundreds of cities worldwide to celebrate bike culture, began in Miami in 2006 and have grown exponentially in the past two years. Last month, thousands met in downtown Miami to ride to Miami Beach and back.

Midway through that route, as the peloton crossed the 79th Street Causeway, a black Mercedes-Benz SL550 belonging to Dr. Irvin Willis began weaving through the crowd and hit 22-year-old Anthony Manzano.

"He tapped him out of his way, knocked him off his bike," says Anthony's father, Ulises Manzano. When Ulises chased down and tried to stop Willis' car, the doctor allegedly knocked him over too before running over his bicycle and driving off.

"If my dad hadn't jumped off the bike, he would have run over him," says the younger Manzano, who ended up with an injured wrist and bruised hip.

Worse than the crime, MPD waited days to begin investigating the hit-and-run, the Manzanos say. (A police spokesman declined to comment on the case because it's open; Willis has not been charged with a crime, though a police report notes he was driving in a "careless or negligent manner" and "fled the scene." Willis' attorney, Michael A. Haber, says the doctor "is not prepared to discuss the matter at the moment.")

"What if the guy could have hurt other people that night?" says Barbara Manzano, Ulises' wife.

The absurdity of the incident was made all the worse when, a few hours later, Miami cops did make one arrest: Constantin was handcuffed and sent to jail for slinging homemade dessert.

Constantin, who is a chef at ­Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, has made a name for himself by handing out free samples of his outrageous flavors, such as orange mango saffron ice cream with mint-infused whipped cream, from a homemade bike outfitted with a cooler.

At the end of Friday's ride, Constantin and friend Hunter Hoover were in front of the Filling Station bar downtown around 10 p.m. when an MPD officer approached as Constantin was selling ice cream to a fellow cyclist. The cop asked the chef if he had a license to sell his dessert. Constantin handed over his ID and said all of his paperwork was in order. Moreover, he had permission from the Filling Station to be there.

When Constantin asked for his ID back, though, the cop told him he could have it as soon as he was packed and ready to leave. When he objected, Constantin says, he was arrested. (A police report states he had been warned in the past not to sell ice cream and that he resisted arrest; he disputes both points.)

Boos and trash began raining down from all directions as cops cuffed the chef. "Everybody was booing and throwing plates and items and things I don't remember at the cops," Hoover says. "It was crazy. It was out of control. The entire Critical Mass was up in arms."

The besieged officers called for backup, and a half-dozen squad cars soon pulled up. Amazingly, it appears as if no one else was arrested.

Both Constantin and Hoover say the incident is really about more than one man's bogus arrest. It's about how Critical Mass has grown so large that cops can't ignore it anymore. Hoover admits the movement has ballooned so fast that it's gotten unruly at times. But he says he and other bikers are working to fix those problems.

"As soon as we entered Miami Beach territory, Beach cops... came out and immediately started to assist us by blocking off the streets," he says. "But as soon as we got into the City of Miami once again, that was nowhere to be found... You're supposed to be helping people or fighting crime or something... not arresting kids for selling ice cream on a bicycle."

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.