by| Sep 25, 2021 3:15 pm
(Updated at 8:31 p.m.) The city’s industrial waterfront disappeared in a cloud of exhaust smoke and the sounds of revving engines and police sirens Saturday as thousands of motorcyclists from across the Northeast descended upon the Annex to participate in a controversial “canceled” event.
By the time the sun had set, police had arrested the event’s organizer on charges of inciting a riot, and officers cleared the streets.
That was the outcome—for now—of Saturday afternoon’s raucous, controversial, and “cancelled” EastCoastin 2021 motorcycle event.
Police estimated that roughly 5,000 people attended the event. Police wound up making two custodial arrests—including of the event’s organizer, Gabe Canestri, Jr. (See more below.)
The event began at around noon at the Hole in the Wall club on Forbes Avenue. At the start, it felt like a boisterous family reunion filled with Harley-Davidsons, hamburgers, leather jackets, lots of beer, and venders hawking souped-up sound systems and t-shirts mocking the city’s attempts to “cancel” the gathering.
By around 3:30 p.m., the scene had turned dramatically louder, smokier, and more volatile.
Stunt riders took over Waterfront Street to do wheelies, burnouts, tire-screeching donuts, and other stunts.
Thousands of eager fans rushed in the street and scaled fences and buildings to watch, video record, and cheer them on.
By around 4:45 p.m., a dozen New Haven Police Department vehicles slowly moved in, sirens blaring, in a bid to disperse the crowded and chaotic event.
Lt. Stephan Torquati told the Independent that the police were under “dispersal orders.” He said Waterfront Street is an important route for trucks transporting gas to the entire Northeast. Those vehicles need to be able to get through.
Some of the bikers and onlookers moved at the police’s orders. Some took selfies and cheered. Others cursed. Others ignored the police and kept on enjoying the show.
Police Chief: Good Until They Took Over The Street
At a 7 p.m. press conference outside of the police department’s Woodward Avenue substation, Interim Police Chief Renee Dominguez said that the department made two custodial arrests related to EastCoastin 2021.
One was of the event’s organizer, Canestri. She said police have arrested him on charges of inciting a riot and second-degree breach of peace.
What led to that arrest was the crowd’s takeover of Waterfront Street for a motorcycle stunt show, Dominguez said. Before that happened, the event — though loud and rowdy — was contained to the sidewalks and private lots and the Hole in the Wall Club. When thousands of motorcyclists and pedestrians took over Waterfront Street and closed it to through traffic, she said, the event turned dangerous—and Canestri became criminally liable.
“We had said there would be no stunt show today,” Dominguez said. “No street would be taken over. It’s too dangerous.”
But there was a stunt show.
“It was good until they disregarded our ask to not take over a street,” the police chief continued. When that happened, the police department’s crowd control team moved in to clear the street—and the police subsequently arrested Canestri.
The second custodial arrest of the day involved a motorcyclist who has been charged with reckless driving, she said.
In addition to those two arrests, Dominguez said, the police seized four bikes for various ordinance violations, and issued another six infractions for incidents like public drinking.
The city police department had 150 officers on the EastCoastin detail Saturday, Dominguez said.
No officers were injured over the course of the day, she said. She stated that police did not use force in making either of the arrests. No participants suffered any injuries serious enough to require medical attention. The “no parking” signs and visible police and tow-truck presence worked at keeping parking under control, and city streets open to through traffic.
Besides that roughly one hour of the day when Waterfront Street became the scene of a stunt show, Dominguez said, the event went as smoothly as a large, unpermitted event could have gone. She credited lessons learned and better police preparation around crowd control and parking signage.
As for the night ahead, Dominguez said, there are still roughly 150 officers on the detail, even though police declared the main event over at around 6 p.m. and started clearing all of Forbes Avenue around then. She said there are still large groups of people gathering throughout Long Wharf, with contingents of EastCoastin attendees at hotels in the neighborhood. Police will remain on the detail until midnight at the earliest, she said, to make sure that bikers don’t take over more city streets or do anything else dangerous or criminal.
“EastCoastin 2021: The Year It Was Canceled”
The large crowds present on Saturday consisted primarily of white men. Many gleefully defied the city’s prior orders to not gather and cancel the event.
Over the past week, the mayor and police chief have publicly decried the unpermitted annual gathering as a scene of potential chaos—discouraging prospective attendees from coming with threats of parking tickets, towed vehicles, and arrests. The police department even announced on social media that the event had been “canceled.”
EastCoastin’s organizers repeatedly shot back that they would be holding the event regardless—that too many hotel rooms had already been booked, that too many motorcycle enthusiasts were already committed to coming, and that the best path forward would be to let the attendees try to have safe, clean, controlled fun.
Based on Saturday’s overflowing crowds beneath the Q Bridge in an industrial section of the Annex, EastCoastin attendees were not deterred by threats of legal reprisal.
One t-shirt for sale among the slew of vendors at the event summed up the crowd’s attitude well. “EastCoastin 2021,” it read, “The Year It Was ‘Canceled’”.
Motorcyclists: Looking Forward To “Good Mayhem”
Attendees told the Independent that they traveled from across the region—from Massachusetts, New Jersey, and elsewhere in Connecticut—to meet up with motorcycle friends, ride their bikes, and participate in an annual festivity that has become for them a highlight of the year.
“I’ve come here for five years,” said Ryan Callahan, who came with a group of friends from central Massachusetts and New Jersey. “This year I brought my wife, and there are small babies around. It’s a family event!”
His friend Nick took a swig of beer as he proclaimed, “Yeah, there’s no drugs or alcohol!”
Callahan said that every year he’s come to EastCoastin there have been no arrests, no fights, no trouble with the police or fellow bikers. He said New Haven “should be grateful to have us here” because of the economic boost that comes with a mass event.
“We’re filling the worst part of the city,” he said. “La Quinta looks like a meth lab, but we’ve packed the place.”
Members of a Boston-based motorcycling crew called Actin Up said they’ve also come to EastCoastin each of the past five years. They described it as positive for New Haven because of the money flowing into the city’s hotels and gas stations.
Actin Up rider Al Veto described the event as “good mayhem.”
What is Veto looking forward to the most on Saturday, besides watching and participating in the afternoon’s motorcycle stunts? “Burnouts,” he said.
Back outside on Forbes Avenue, Shannon St. James and her daughter Eva watched the motorcyclists from the sidelines. They came for the day from Massachusetts with her boyfriend, who plans to ride in the day’s two-wheeled activities.
“All the boys like this stuff,” St. James said. “I don’t.”
Her baby Eva, meanwhile, is a big fan of bikes. But she won’t ever be allowed to ride a motorcycle, St. James promised, “because it’s too dangerous.”
Dunkin Donuts Manager: “Good For Biz”
Forbes Avenue Dunkin Donuts manager Samah Mohamed agreed with that assessment that EastCoastin is good for business. It’s been good for her business, at least.
“People are very nice, respectful,” she said. “They’re coming to have fun. I don’t want to ruin anything. And it’s really good for business.”
She said that last year’s EastCoastin event resulted in a $2,000 bump in her business’s average daily sales. She expects an extra $3,000 in business today, thanks to large presence of both bikers and police officers.
Mohamed said she’s worked at that Dunkin Donuts for nine years, and has seen EastCoastin get progressively larger and larger every year.
How did she prepare for today’s surge? She went though last year’s sales record and stocked up on everything that the bike event attendees flocked to last time. That means she has a surplus of water, iced coffee, and glazed donuts today, ready to serve the crowds.
None of the customers and few of the staff inside of the Dunkin Donuts were wearing face masks. Mohamed said she keeps a stack of masks on hand by the cash register and offers them to customers. She doesn’t force masks on customers because many may refuse and start fighting back.
Vendors: “Louder & Better”
By 2:30 p.m. Saturday, thousands of motorcyclists had gathered at Hole in the Wall, at the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street, and along Forbes Avenue.
Most people stood around catching up with friends, eating hamburgers, drinking beer, and perusing motorcycle parts and t-shirts sold at the many vendor tents at Hole in the Wall. Several bikers rode up and down Forbes Avenue and on side streets. No one had started doing motorcycle stunts and tricks yet.
One vendor at the scene was Plex Audio’s Carlos Mendez. He said his business sponsors 90 percent of the motorcycle groups in attendance Saturday.
He said he’s been vending at the annual EastCoastin event for each of the past three years. His business sells motorcycle speakers.
He got into that line of work because he’s a motorcyclist himself, and wanted to find a way to make speakers on these vehicles “louder and better.
Police have a visible presence on scene, with officers standing in pairs up and down the avenue. Police have also posted “no parking” signs all along Forbes. So far, there appeared to be little interaction between law enforcement and the crowds of bikers.
EMTs: “No Injuries, No Incidents So Far”
American Medical Response EMTs Kevin Martin and Michael Rondina were also on the scene Saturday.
“Everybody’s been well behaved. No injuries, no incidents so far,” said Martin, who is AMR’s operations supervisor, at around 2:30 p.m.
He said AMR was working with the city’s fire department to support the local police presence.
Martin estimated there were already 10,000 people at the Forbes Avenue event by Saturday afternoon. He said there could be as many as 20,000 by the end of the day.
So far, most the people they’ve seen have been “parading” up and down the street. A few appeared to be starting to do stunts by around 3 p.m.
This article will be updated over the course of Saturday.
Click here, here, here, and here to watch more from Saturday’s event.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. Essentials: NH Mayors and Police Chiefs have let this go for a decade. Tasking the current version of the NHPD to try and clean up their mess , with the shortage of manpower, the forced excess hours of work for over two years now putting every officer now on duty in New Haven on a psychological edge, daily; letting this happen one day after Joshua Castellano was buried in the Grove St. Cemetery, I can say Canestri’s delusional behavior, acting out a low rent, version of Vin Diesel in XXX, and being allowed to get away with it year in and year out, begs for some explanation. Who does he know, or is related to, that would give him the influence above and beyond the police department, and Mayor’s office? I am glad not one officer was hurt, or drawn into a public drama caught between the media, the shabby management in city hall, and a pack of bikers who have no respect for anyone except themselves, and their delusions, driven from childhoods where motion picture fairy tales about outlaw bikers, now manifests itself in a low rent version of public disturbance by people with ages of adults, but the thought processes of suburban, teenage, spoiled boys, who’s testosterone day dream delusions are tolerated at the expense of the general public that might have wanted to drive up or down the Post Road, Route One, the countries first highway.
Oh, and who got to the other “news” outlets in CT? Nothing on WTNH, WFSB, AND FOX? Maybe if the police had used force they would have run a story? or someone died there? But a public disturbance, of thousands, that were ordered to not happen, by a Mayor, is not a news story that should have been followed up on the day of the event, in the middle of it? For some piece of fact and truth? Who does that benefit?
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