With social media, overtly liberal politicians and some police chiefs, and people watching too many movies or TV shows like “Sons of Anarchy,” I strongly believe our efforts are misguided and have served to backfire – shutting down trust and support from the very most patriotic and law enforcement-supportive groups out there.
In this day and age where everyone group seems to align itself with bashing and hating on cops, it appears that several police agencies, and even the State of Texas, in an orchestrated effort, have taken aim at motorcycle clubs – casual fraternal groups – lumping them in with “gangs” like The Bloods and Crips who roam the streets of Compton and Los Angeles, or MS-13 in Long Island, New York.
Please allow me to paint you a scenario involving a man I know very well. Please put yourself in his shoes and imagine the overwhelming bewilderment as he’s experienced the events of the past several months.
I met this man inside the USO at Los Angeles International Airport in November of 1990. We discovered we were both headed to the same base in Korea – Kunsan Air Base, home of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing Wolfpack. He was a bomb dog handler for the base’s K-9 section, working directly with Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) and I was in Security Police.
He and I hit it off right away – we were both from Texas, had children around the same age, were the same rank, had been in the Air Force about the same amount of time, and ended up living in the same dormitory.
We were both on a remote tour away from our families. I’ve been good friends with this man since that day – 29 years – he gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral, and I sang at his wedding. He is a professional working with veterans as a mentor, helping them write resumes and work on their interviewing skills.
He rides a nice Harley-Davidson and is a member of a large, nationwide veterans motorcycle club. He thoroughly enjoys the road trips and club meets involved, and his most cherished action is the charity work his club does through fundraisers and activities designed to support those who are ill or disabled.
Imagine his complete dismay when a group of his members went to Dallas for a birthday celebration, and the entire group was stopped by several officers in separate vehicles. The group was informed that the officers were members of the Dallas Gang Unit.
The probable cause they were given for the traffic stop was that one of the guys made “a wide turn in the last intersection” and the entire group was stopped. They were detained for half an hour, all their bodies were searched, and photos were taken of them, their bikes, and their vests, American flags, and other patches to be entered into the “Gang Database.”
I have another good friend – he and I went to school together and were members of the Columbia High School Mighty Roughneck Band. He’s a Pentecostal minister and owns a Harley. He takes one or two major road trips per year and regularly rides with a few other people. Because of selective enforcement, people like him are stopped as well.
There are also local, state, and national chapters of the Harleys Owner’s Group or HOG – they wear membership patches on their vests or jackets, and come from all walks of life – doctors, lawyers, engineers – and all they have in common is the ability to buy a $20,000-40,000 domestic motorcycle and have a love of riding. These clubs are being stopped.
Being a member of the law enforcement community, I support “selective enforcement” in many ways. New York City had the “stop and frisk” program that met with wild opposition from civil rights groups but was amazingly effective at reducing crime in targeted areas by constant police contact.
Officers would regularly apprehend people with active warrants or were carrying guns or knives as felons. A huge amount of drugs were taken off the streets, and crimes like prostitution and strong-armed robberies dropped significantly. Of course, rapes and murders were reduced, as well.
Selective enforcement, to me, means putting police resources right where the crimes are occurring. If you don’t want to be “hassled” by the police, don’t be in the area where crimes most regularly occur.
We’ve all heard about the violent action at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas in 2015. Stories conflict over who started it, but guns and knives were involved, police responded, 9 people died and 20 were injured.
In a strange procedure in that 177 people were arrested, and 155 were charged and their lives were put on hold for 4 years. Their jobs, careers, and families were put on hold. Ultimately, only ONE person was tried and that proceeding ended up in a mistrial.
This past week, charges were dropped against the remaining 24 people who’d been charged. More than 100 motorcycle club members have filed suit against McClennan County alleging civil rights violations for being arrested after the shooting that involved a small number of people, and their rights were violated.
Texas is taking a strong stance on gang violence, and I fully support that, as does every citizen I know. Texas currently has 6 gang units and is funding 2 more in Waco and Tyler. That sounds great, but I can’t help but take exception with the comments by a police sergeant in Waco in reference to this gang task force.
A recent story in the Waco Tribune quotes Waco Police Sergeant W. Patrick Swanton commented on the newly proposed task force locations. I note that he put “outlaw biker gangs” as his first mention ahead of prison gangs, MS-13, the Mexican mafia and Bloods and Crips.
“As a department, we are very proud that the governor thought enough of us to ask us to be a part of this,” Swanton said. “It also is a big deal for our community because it will make our city safer. If you look at our past history, we know that gangs are here. We had outlaw motorcycle gangs that disrupted our community several years ago. There are prison gangs. MS-13 is here. Mexican Mafia members are here. Other prison gangs, the Bloods, Crips, they are here. We kind of run the gamut from everything from large organized prison gangs to your little neighborhood wannabe gangs. The officers will deal with those and try to cut off the head of the snake.”
Selective enforcement certainly has a purpose, and gangs like MS-13, the Bloods and the Crips are serious threats to our society’s safety and security.
With that said, I haven’t seen any news stories at all about the Bloods, Crips, or MS-13 members being stopped en masse and searched or otherwise detained. I’m seeing these bike clubs/groups being stopped and staked out on a weekly basis.
Now, I’ve always pushed the envelope, both in verbal and written communications. I like to lean on the joke that standing up to people is controversial, and if you don’t, no one will remember your name. So I’m going to make another point.
More than 20,000 police officers have joined law-enforcement-related motorcycle clubs. Most of these members have carried themselves professionally. There have been several incidents involving violence either incited by police motorcycle club members or perpetuated by them.
Recent events in Arizona and Colorado have outlined police officers committing assaults and other crimes. It is strongly felt in the non-police element of the motorcycle community that these officers conduct themselves in this manner without impunity. Whether confirmed or not, it is a firm belief that police officers flash their badges to get themselves out of trouble that would have charged, convicted, and imprisoned anyone else.
As a matter of further controversy, several police-only motorcycle clubs have red and gold colors in their organizational patches, apparently aiming a direct affront to the Bandidos’ colors and a stab at their organization.
While some might see the humor or sarcasm in this, many don’t, and if police officers are committing the same types of crimes as they allege these “outlaw gangs” are carrying out, is it ethical to get off with your badge andmake fun of another club?
I’ll close with this. My friend is a veteran, a patriot, a strong community member, a Christian, and a damned good friend.
Imagine his dismay as he rides his bike with his group, and the rules that he followed and enforced as a military member are set aside to detain him and search his body, clothing, and bike without what he sees as probable cause.