An Arizona bill intended to reduce police harassment of bikers died last week. The bill was SB 1086 sponsored by State Senator Judy Burges. It was voted out of the Senate Public Safety Committee last month but failed in the Arizona Senate Committee of the Whole.
The bill would have required that police officers in training be instructed that “the sole fact that a person rides a motorcycle or wears motorcycle-related paraphernalia” does not amount to a reasonable suspicion or probable cause that riders are criminals.
The Arizona Confederation of Clubs and numerous members of the Confederation had lobbied on behalf of the bill. Dozens of bikers packed last month’s hearing and told the politicians about being stopped and held at gun point for up to an hour while cops tried to find an excuse to arrest them and tow their bikes.
Among the most widely quoted speaker was Jess “Slick Rick” Rodriguez of the ALMA Motorcycle Club. “If they (the police) see a patch, and you’re riding down the road, they pull you over for any kind of reason with no probable cause whatsoever,” Rodríguez said. “It’s very demeaning at times. Women are frisked for no reason. You’re detained in 115 degree weather for an hour and then let go and not even given a reason why you were pulled over. It’s not illegal to be an Elk. It’s not illegal to be an Eagle. It’s not illegal to be a Shriner, a Knight of Columbus. We wear collective marks. We ride motorcycles. That’s what we like to do. I understand the average Joe citizen doesn’t feel our plight. But when they get done with bikers who are they going to pick on next?”
Police bullying of motorcyclists in general and motorcycle club members in particular is an escalating problem in the United States. Two major civil rights suits in New Jersey and Nevada have been filed in federal court to combat the problem. The Nevada suit was brought by the Southern Nevada Confederation of Clubs and numerous individual complainants. The New Jersey suit was filed by members of the Pagans and Tribe Motorcycle Clubs.
Arizona, which is broke but keeps throwing millions of tax dollars at an imaginary biker menace, seems to be begging for a similar lawsuit.
The Usual Suspects
The bill was defeated by a caucus of twelve Democratic Pol Pots and two Republican wing nuts – Senator Steve Yarbrough and Senator Rich Crandall. The opponents were all tools of the police lobby which had opposed the bill. The roll call was tied 14-14. The bill needed a majority to move on.
Yarbrough called the SB 1086 an attempt “micromanage the syllabus for the police academy…. How about persons who wear military uniforms? Certainly they ought to be protected as a class. What about young people, or what about little old ladies with gray hair? All of those might be worthy of being a protected class so they’re not profiled by the police.”
Gallardo singled out the Hells Angels as one reason why police must defend Arizona from the Bill of Rights. “That one percent patch symbolizes that these are folks who live outside the law,” Gallardo theorized. “So if you don’t want to be profiled, stop wearing those patches.”
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Nevada, ruled in a case titled Sammartano v. First Judicial District Court in and for the County of Carson City, that motorcycle club patches and similar adornments are constitutionally protected speech.