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Rejected Column

Kinda frustrated when I get what I think is a brilliant idea for a column, spend a couple of days writing it, and then my publisher rejects it. I had actually started writing this before I came back to Seattle from the desert after seeing the results of that biker melee in Waco, Texas just before Memorial Day, and it was reinforced shortly after I got back to Seattle and stopped at my alterations guy to have him sew some patches on my biker vest. I had lunch with my publisher on Friday to catch up, and I mentioned the topic I was working on and he got this concerned look on his face and said that the magazine has a strict policy of not mentioning or discussing biker gangs or clubs at all. I tried to reassure him that this was in context of the news coverage of Waco, and I emailed him the column from my phone as I was sitting there (gotta love cloud technology right?) and asked him to look it over before deciding and let me know so I could have time to write something else.

Well yesterday he emailed back saying: "We feel its in our own best interests long term to remain a Club Free/Waco Free Zone. Your article was very good but we simply don't see an upside to stepping into this now. It is also not a positive move business wise since all our advertisers are very aware of our 13 year "no club news" policy so they know they have no worries about carrying our magazine. I have to look at the larger, long term picture overall."

I do appreciate and can see his point, and I'm not upset -- and I'm glad I have 10 more days to write something else. However I also thought this was worth sharing on here.
So, how do you like being lumped together with those criminals in Texas who happened to ride motorcycles and decided to have a turf war at a restaurant in Waco? I was picking up my biker vest from my local alterations shop that sews on my patches a few weeks ago when a lady behind me in line saw my vest and asked me “are you a gang member?” Really? I laughed and said “yes I belong to a couple of clubs, but the biggest criminal activity we ever do is to our waistlines and blood pressure when we get together and ride and get biscuits and gravy.

According to the news media, pretty much anyone who rides on motorized two wheels and wears a vest is in a “biker gang”, even us fifty-something balding middle-aged semi-retired guys who ride in a group to get biscuits and gravy. Highly regarded and reputable news outlets like CNN fell into the “bikers=gang=Sons of Anarchy” trap, bringing in self-proclaimed “biker experts” who pontificated on the dangers of guys (and some gals) on motorcycles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such hysteria on TV news and over-reaction by law enforcement since Hollywood made “The Wild One” starring Marlon Brando.

After the shootout in Waco, the police there arrested pretty much anyone wearing a biker vest with patches on it, including people who were not part of the melee and were eating at a popular biker friendly restaurant. It would be like the Enumclaw police arresting everyone at Taco Thursday at the City Hall Saloon in Cumberland because a couple of folks got into a fight. At least in Washington we do have an anti-biker profile law on the books, which I admittedly at the time thought was not a major deal, but looking back on it now at least it would prevent the police from arresting over 170 people because they looked like bikers and were in the restaurant.

And in Waco a lot of those arrested are still in jail, under million dollar bonds, and have been promised a reduced bail if they agree not to sue Waco police for false arrest. This would seem to indicate that the Waco police know they have overreacted to the incident by sweeping up all bikers in the vicinity. The city and taxpayers of Waco should brace themselves for a slew of lawsuits and settlements for false arrest. Now I’m not downplaying the incident by any means – nine people were killed. Its nothing to laugh at, but at the same time, its no excuse for police and the news media to overreact as they did and to paint anyone in a leather vest on a bike with the same brush.

And as par for the course in Texas, the ever vigilant and brilliant Texas Department of Public Safety said that members of the clubs who are in the military "are supplying the gang with grenades and C4 explosives.”  They go on to warn of plots targeting high-ranking law enforcement officials and their families with car bombs. Bikers want to retaliate against police for shooting "their brothers" as they came out of the Twin Peaks restaurant, the bulletin says. This bulletin is based on unsubstantiated information from an informant who said he got it from motorcycle gang members. Keep in mind this is the same Texas law enforcement community that is watching the United States Military training exercises in case President Obama wants to invade Texas, declare martial law and heard citizens into abandoned Wal-Mart stores that have been converted into FEMA re-education camps. I’m not making this stuff up. Texas on the whole scares me.

But I’m even more disappointed in CNN and other credible journalists (as opposed to Internet bloggers who thrive on unsubstantiated sensationalism) who fell into the hysteria trap, and resorted to quoting self-proclaimed “experts” on bikers, like Charles Falco who’s book “Vagos, Mongols, and Outlaws” was written to capitalize on the popularity (and misconceptions) portrayed in the TV show “Sons of Anarchy”. He was repeatedly interviewed and quoted on CNN saying such things as these groups "like participating in war" and take assaults on their pride seriously. Their members don't forget but are "very patient," and predicting they "will back off for now" then lash out in nine months to a year. "Anytime a biker gang war starts, it never stops. Thirty, forty years from now, you'll still be reporting about these biker gangs fighting each other. The war will never end."

All this hype and hysteria lead to a huge increase in security at the Myrtle Beach Bikefest that was held the week following the Waco incident. Now did all that extra security and its extra cost accomplish anything? Was Bikefest dangerous? No, it wasn’t. If you look at the stats from Myrtle Beach, there have been five shooting deaths in the city so far in 2015 - not one during Bikefest.

I have to wonder what impact this will have on our own Northwest events like Sun and Surf, or the Thunder Run. And long-term, will the police seek to shut down summer bike events because of the fear generated by the Waco melee? Let’s hope not.  I’d hate to give up wearing my biker vest.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

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