The new horsemen: how American riot police embraced the bicycleThursday 15 June 2017 07.00 BST
Early last Saturday afternoon, under clear blue skies, a sparsely attended “anti-sharia” rally left the grounds of City Hall in Seattle, Washington.
Until then, the attendees had been facing off against a much larger group of anti-fascists. The two sides had been exchanging chants and taunts across a wide, fenced-off area, manned with riot police.
As they left the grounds, however, the two sides came into direct contact at the corner of 4th and Cherry. A group of young men – some wearing red Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hats, others in masks – spilled from the pavement out onto the street. Punches started flying.
Immediately, 10 fit, muscular police officers on black mountain bikes who had been watching from across the intersection in two columns of five, leaped into action.
Dismounting as they closed in, they pushed their bikes directly into the heart of the melee. Yelling instructions – “Move BACK!” – they used the bikes, and their bodies, to create a line, pushing back the crowd and separating the antagonists.
They held the line. As people began to disperse, the police gradually expanded the perimeter. After 20 minutes or so the crowd had noticeably thinned, and the riot bicycle unit left for a nearby park where more fighting had kicked off.
If it all looked smooth and efficient, it’s partly because Seattle’s bike squad gets a lot of practice. “Seattle has 200-300 protests a year,” says Sgt Jim Dyment, the squad’s lead trainer. “Although they’re not all as contentious as today’s.”