Street Vibrations, the second largest motorcycle rally in the west, starts next week in Reno, Sparks and Virginia City, Nevada. And, for the first time ever visitors will not be allowed to wear patches.
The official announcement of this new policy reads: “Street Vibrations Fall Rally is a ‘No Colors’ event this year and will be going forward. Bikers can be recognized by their ‘colors,’ the vests or jackets they wear. The backs of their vests or jackets often display patches, which identify the clubs to which they belong.
“Sponsor hotel casinos within each venue will post ‘No Colors’ and enforce a code of conduct on their private property. Colors are defined as outlaw motorcycle clubs bearing 3&4 patch insignias on their outerwear. This code of conduct enforcement will also apply to soft colors (hats, bandanas, shoelaces and t-shirts).
“’Motorcycle events produced by Roadshows are family friendly events,’ said Randy Burke, president and CEO of the special events company. “We want to keep them that way.”
The ban on club insignia is the result of a shootout last autumn between members of the Vagos and Hells Angels Motorcycle Clubs inside John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino in Sparks.
Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew, the President of the San Jose charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club died of wounds he suffered in the fight. Vagos Leonard Ramirez and Diego Garcia were shot. And two men, Vago Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez and Hells Angel Cesar Villagrana are awaiting trial for participating in the fight. Gonzalez is accused of killing Pettigrew and Villagrana is accused of shooting Ramirez and Garcia.
A third man, former Vago Stuart Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick, actually started the fight with Pettigrew. He agreed to cooperate with the prosecution of Gonzalez and Villagrana and is now free.
Depending on how and where it is enforced, this year’s no colors policy may wind up being argued in federal court. The issue has been litigated numerous times. Colors disappeared from the Laughlin River Run Rally a decade ago after the last previous casino shootout in Nevada.
Existing federal case law makes it legal to ban patches and other indicia – like a bandanna in a back pocket – from private property. But most of Street Vibrations is held on public streets, and streets, parks, courthouse grounds and other public spaces are considered to be public forums. (Lawyers and judges usually use the Latin fora.) Beyond that the Ninth Circuit Court has ruled that motorcycle club insignia is protected expression. For example, in a 2002 case with the clumsy name Sammartano v. First Judicial District Court In and For the County of Carson City the Ninth Circuit Court wrote, “To hold otherwise would be to allow discrimination in favor of garden clubs and gun clubs (and the points of view associated with those organizations), and discrimination against biker clubs (and their associated points of view).”
Roadshows Inc., the event managers for Street Vibrations, has a provision in its “Exhibit Space Contract” for this rally that “No club colors may be worn or sold in vendor booths.” The booths, however, are located on public streets.
The ban is clearly meant to apply to the collective membership marks of the Vagos and the Hells Angels. It will be interesting to see if it also applies to the patches of ersatz corporate creations like the Sons of Anarchy and the Sinister Mob Syndicate.