The “Fear of Crime” has been used by law enforcement and government as a strategy to justify abuses of discretion and punitively targeting marginalized communities for decades. The actions of law enforcement towards motorcycle clubs is a clear example. The attempt to spread fear about motorcyclists in the minds of the general public through outrageous claims and sensationalized rhetoric is undeniable. (see How Waco Is Being Used To Decimate The 1st Amendment ).
WACO AND THE FEAR OF CRIME
The Waco incident has afforded a new opportunity for law enforcement to vilify an entire class of people based on the actions of the few. Law enforcement’s attempt to spread fear following the Waco shooting is both deplorable and false. Many news outlets reported that police “received credible reports” that “biker gang leaders” issued orders to “kill anyone in uniform.” The idea that any club would “green light” or give orders to “kill anyone in uniform” is both absurd and upsetting. These reports and assertions are based on absolutely nothing.
There is zero substantiation for any threats being made. In fact, a national officer from the Bandidos Motorcycle Club strongly denies claims by police that “biker gangs” involved have been ordered to “kill anyone in uniform.” Yet police also issued a bulletin warning all motorcyclists to stay off the streets of Waco because they couldn’t distinguish between a biker and those bent on criminality. (see How Waco Is Being Used To Decimate The 1st Amendment ). And if you think a current member is biased, even former members in bad standing publicly confirmed that these claims are ridiculous.
Claims of retaliation are irresponsible fear mongering, stereotyping a large community based on nothing real. But the implications of fear are real. Lives can easily be extinguished when those with assault weapons have convinced themselves, and everyone else, that bike clubs are a legitimate threat to society. This is obviously not true. A claim without a warrant is not valid. But it is the story being repeated everywhere. And it must be disputed across the board.
WACO’S IMPACT OUTSIDE OF TEXAS – USING FEAR TO JUSTIFY DISCRIMINATORY POLICING IN OTHER STATES
The impact of post-Waco fear on policing of motorcyclists is irrefutable.
In California, officers surrounded a police station and city hall because it was reported a motorcycle club would be riding through town. Waco was used as the justification. Absolutely no reasonable suspicion or evidence that any crime was going to take place existed. Pure fear based militarized policing that even scared average citizens. (see Bikers Met by Paramilitary Forces: Riding in California is Now Considered a Threat?)
In Virginia, police raided a motorcycle club charity while armed with assault rifles, combat clothing, military vehicles, and a sealed search warrant. The police then refused to reveal the warrant after the search and seizure of club property and left without explanation. (see Virginia Police State: No Motorcycle Club is Safe.)
In New Mexico, the Mayor of a small town publicly declared in a council meeting that, despite 15 years of an incident free Fire and Ice Bike Rally, the event ought to be discontinued because motorcycle clubs are violent and a major incident like Waco is not a matter of if, but when. Another example of an agent of the government blatantly making discriminatory generalizations about motorcycle clubs based on a completely unrelated incident that is nowhere near being resolved. Charges have yet to even be filed in the case, yet it is being used as a justification to target and selectively enforce the law based on a campaign of propaganda and fear.
In Idaho, based on unsubstantiated information subjected to zero scrutiny, a heavily militarized multi-agency force blockaded and harassed, with overwhelming force, hundreds of motorcycle club members and independents at an annual POW/MIA event. There were no arrests and there had NEVER been a problem in the events long history, including the clubs present this year. But law enforcement, in their own words, “lit them up” anyway, blockading all patrons inside, cordoning them off with military style equipment and weaponry. There was no attempt to conduct rational community policing or communicate. This is true even though event coordinators made it perfectly clear that there has always been an open line of communication with the clubs present. The police explicitly admit that their mindset was a militarized show of force to prevent a fictitious problem before it occurred, regardless of the undisputed history of peace and communication with clubs. (see Police Have Declared War On Motorcycle Clubs: Is Another Biker Massacre Imminent? )
These are but a few examples demonstrating how law enforcement is using Waco to justify more punitive and discriminatory policing tactics against motorcyclists. There is a laundry list of incidents growing daily. And there is a repetitive theme. Military style police actions targeting motorcyclists based on nothing more than stereotype and fear with zero reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that a crime is, or will, take place.
So why do police promote a fear of crime about bikers? What purpose does it serve? Kenneth Dowler from the Department of Criminal Justice reports, “Researchers argue that public fear and anxiety is inextricably connected with public pressure for solutions to crime problems.” The result of fear of crime campaigns “increase public pressure for more effective policing and more punitive responses to crime.” (see MEDIA CONSUMPTION AND PUBLIC ATTITUDES TOWARD CRIME AND JUSTICE 2003 )
The outcome of public pressure for punitive policies too easily leads to discrimination and targeting. According to experts in geography and environmental management “crime, violence, harassment and fear have clear roles to play in the spatial and social exclusion of marginalized social groups.” (see Place, social relations and the fear of crime: a review)
This is undeniably the experience of many communities from ethnic minorities to bikers, and exactly what is happening post-Waco. The fear of crime is “invoked at the level of governance in order to excite fear and promote support for punitive strategies. This notion reinforces the situation of oppressed groups on the boundaries of society.”
In simple terms, the fear of crime makes discriminatory profiling and selective enforcement of the law easier for law enforcement to justify. When the general public is scared of a community it is far easier to isolate and abuse them. This creates a vicious self-perpetuating cycle because the public’s response to fear is a desire for more punitive policing. Law enforcement needs enemies to justify budgets for military-style policing and mega-investigations. Capitalizing on a tragedy like Waco to promote a fear of motorcycle clubs across the board will most certainly yield higher budgets for law enforcement operations targeting bikers.
The only question remaining is what will bikers do about it? The Motorcycle Profiling Project believes that unifying all elements of the motorcycle rights community together for the common purpose of delivering a responsible and effective messages to combat profiling and discrimination, coupled with relief from state legislatures nationwide, may be the best opportunity the motorcycle club community has at surviving another half-century.