The “We Ain’t Playing Possum Party” scheduled to begin tomorrow and sponsored by the Eastern Iowa chapter of the Sons of Silence Motorcycle Club was cancelled this week, mostly because Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren and a local judge named Stuart Werling decided to push their weight around.
The party was to be held at the chapter’s clubhouse located at 2097 Highway 61. The area is south of the local airport and is not densely inhabited. The owner of the property is an SOS patch holder named Edward Zeman.
The O Word
The idea was to raise funds to help pay the clubhouse’s property taxes and other chapter expenses. In previous years the club had sponsored a fundraiser near Conesville, Iowa called “Thunder in the Sand” but authorities there put a stop to that. Club members expected the Possum Party to draw a crowd of 150 to 250 for the three day event. The chapter had hired performers, invited vendors, rented chemical toilets and was planning live music and motorcycle rodeo events.
It seems obvious that Ostergren decided to put a stop to the event because the Sons wear a three piece patch. But he sought an injunction on the grounds that the clubhouse property is zoned “as R-3 residential and C-1 commercial” and the chapter had neglected to apply for a “special use permit.” Ostergren’s objections to the party probably didn’t really have much to do with zoning which is why the local Sheriff, a man named C.J. Ryan, testified at Judge Werling’s hearing.
The club council, an attorney named Pete Leehey noted that a lot of parties are thrown in rural Muscatine County and wondered out loud “Why are we picking on these guys?” The obvious answer is because the Sons are a motorcycle club. The Davenport NBC television station, KWQC, argued that “The Sons of Silence, on the national level, has labeled itself a one percenter club – an outlaw group – setting itself apart from the 99% of motorcycle clubs that are law abiding social organizations.”
Zoning Not Civil Rights
There are a dozen or so residences in the immediate area of the clubhouse and although none of those neighbors seemed to have complained the County Attorney went ahead and complained for them. And the judge agreed. He wrote: “The County has no other sufficient remedy to protect the quiet enjoyment of the properties by the surrounding homeowners other than an injunction,”
Zeman thinks the County cancelled the party because they disapprove of his club. He told the Davenport station, “I’m not a monster. I’m not a criminal. Things have changed. Our club has realized that in order to exist we have to change with the times.” If Zeman is right, this little tempest is potentially a federal civil rights case.
But the County Attorney refused to admit to what Zeman thinks is obvious. “It’s not a question of whether or not motorcycles are good or bad, or whether the Sons of Silence are an outlaw motorcycle gang or something positive,” Ostergren said. “That’s not something the court was asked to determine. The question is you have this property in a residential area and that’s not an appropriate use for the property where it’s located.” That’s the local official’s story and he’s sticking to it. “We have a zoning enforcement issue that we’re pursuing against a bible camp in Muscatine County,” he added for emphasis.