The police still fear us. They still really, really fear us.
Let’s face it, okay? The reason why some of you ride a large, loud, patriotic motorcycle; have multiple tattoos; wear work clothes and black leather to the mall; carry a knife and maybe a gun; glare at strangers; and wear your wallet on a chain is because you know it makes all those guys who think they are better than you wet their pants.
For the rest of us the intimidation factor is probably at least a fringe benefit. Yet, an argument still rages over the true nature of the biker soul.
Good Versus Evil
On one side, Harley-Davidson and its dealers and the big event promoters and many snide, GenX journalists all argue that most bikers are really just wealthy dentists unwinding from a hard week at the drill. Look, it’s only Harleyween; the AARP on motorcycles; RUBs; Rolex Riders; poseurs; bank presidents, CEOs and lawyers! There is nothing to fear from them except maybe a lawsuit! Raise the prices on everything!
And then the responsible opposing view, that smart bikers are psychopaths and stupid bikers are animals, can be heard at any Myrtle Beach City Council meeting or read in any of the multiplying tales about the heroic deeds of heroic Jay Dobyns. Biker America! With special guest stars, the Pagans Motorcycle Club on a Saturday night! The sub-culture that is so violent that even the motorcycle missionaries will cap your ass, cut you up with a Bowie knife and bury the pieces in the desert!
Harmless biker or dangerous biker? What do the police think? In a couple of recent instances in California real, live bikers have given local police a bad case of the shakes.
Police Versus Vagos
March 8th, the Vagos Motorcycle Club held a fundraiser to help pay the bills of a member who has cancer. The Vagos charged admission, provided food and sold tee-shirts. All the women kept their tops on. If you are reading this now the chances are pretty good that you have been to at least a couple dozen similar runs.
Vagos, friends of the Vagos, independent bikers, Harley Owner’s Group members, Rich Urban Bikers and others rode into a politely remote Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, VFW Post 6110 on the Sierra Highway in a southern California town called Canyon Country. Police estimated the crowd at “more than” 300.
“This was a family event. Riders came with their wives and children,” VFW Commander John Olish said. But the police felt forced to push their weight around anyway.
Various special police units including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s COBRA Team (COBRA stands for Career Offenders Burglary Robbery Apprehension), the Community Interaction Team, the Community Oriented Policing Services Unit and another dozen patrol and traffic officers, all under the most excellent command of a Sheriff’s Captain named Anthony La Berge “broke up” what news accounts described as an “outlaw biker gang event.”
Don’t Let Them Escape!
A road block was established to trap any bikers who might try to escape and about thirty, or one in ten of the participants, were hit with some charge. Charges included failure to carry proof of insurance, illegally high handlebars, failure to stop, disturbing the peace and failure to obey a police officer. Some Vagos prospects, who halted traffic to allow bikes to safely enter or exit the event were cited for impeding traffic.
A Sheriff’s spokesman named Sergeant Darren Harris, explained that “Although the gathering itself is not unlawful, some of the actions of these individuals and the motorcycles they are riding are illegal. Not to mention the fact that they can be disruptive to the peace and serenity of the community. Our primary goal is to ensure public safety and peace in response to community complaints and concerns about these bikers. We will do whatever it takes to accomplish just that.” In other words, bikers are scary.
Police Versus Vets
Then about a week ago, the police in a crappy little town east of Fresno, named Sanger, decided to make an example out of five members of the Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club and the Legacy Vets MC. Two of the riders that day, Glen Webster and George Swigart are disabled veterans with the proper paperwork to park in a handicapped space. Webster got blown up by a hand grenade while serving with the First Air Cav in 1968. Swigart is a Vietnam era Navy veteran. One of the Legacy Vets just returned from Iraq.
All five of them parked their motorcycles in one disabled parking space. Their reasoning was that two of them earned the right to park there. And, the polite thing to do was to only use one space to park all of the bikes.
The five were almost immediately surrounded by seven cops including a gang officer and a member of the local SWAT Team. All five were issued $900 tickets for illegal parking and urged to move on.
Webster, who has a young wife and two children, told the Fresno Bee that he cannot afford to pay the fine. “They’re gonna have to throw me in jail,” he told the Bee. “I’m not gonna pay $900 out of my family’s budget. If I’m in jail, I still get my veteran’s administration benefits.”
Webster and Swigart are both in their sixties. And, if there is bright side to this it is that they are still frightening small town cops.