As the movement to address motorcycle profiling spreads across America so has the necessity to develop specific patterns of evidence in each state pursuing legislative solutions. In the state of Missouri, the pattern of evidence regarding police harassment is historically irrefutable. A perfect demonstration of selective enforcement and profiling targeting motorcyclists has been documented by media accounts and statements from leadership in the motorcycle community relating to overwhelming police presence and harassment at the 19th Annual Mule Run in Clay County, Missouri. This clear example of discriminatory policing proves the necessity for legislative relief.
The 19th Annual Mule Run- A Story Of Mass Police Harassment And Motorcycle Profiling
On September 7, 2013 the Clay County Sheriffs Department coordinated a multi-agency operation targeting the 19th Annual Mule Run, an event held for charity, based on the prejudicial belief that motorcycle clubs have a propensity to be violent. Bravo, Chair of the Missouri Confederation of Clubs political organization, says “they had 30 officers, 2 helicopters and a mobile command center.” According to the Kearney Courier, the operation involved even more officers than originally believed. “The department conducted the operation with approximately 50 of its own employees with surrounding agencies operating on standby if an incident were to occur.”
The operation was not based on probable cause that a crime was likely to occur. This was a self-admitted massive police harassment and fishing expedition utilizing pretextual traffic stops based on stereotype. According to the Clay County Sheriffs Department, “the office conducted a concentrated traffic enforcement operation in Kearney as a proactive response to reports that a local motorcycle event — the 19th annual Mule Run — had the potential to draw activity from outlaw motorcycle gang members.”
Police Selectively Targeted Motorcyclists In Overwhelming Numbers
Although Clay County Lt. Will Akin said, “I can’t stress enough we were not profiling” both the facts and Akins own words prove this denial false.
- The traffic stop statistics prove that motorcyclists were being selectively targeted and stopped. According to KCTV 5 News, “Officers saturated the area, stopping 49 cars, trucks and motorcycles for traffic violations. Two people were arrested on traffic-related charges. In addition, eight citations and 33 warnings were issued for issues such as not having a state-sanctioned No felony arrests were made.” 33 warnings for helmet warnings out of 49 stops most certainly proves selective enforcement of the laws.
- Akins reported to the Kearney Courier that, “There was information that came through that involved the possibility of outlaw motorcycle gang members showing up.” “We wanted to make sure they knew we were in town,” Akin said.
There is every reason to believe that police will continue to profile based on discriminatory stereotypes into the future. Despite no incidents, “the sheriff’s office said it would continue operations aimed at preventing outlaw motorcycle gang activity in the county.”
Mere Association Is Not Enough to Justify Selective Enforcement
Generalized statements about clubs labeled gangs or criminals does not justify selective enforcement. To target an individual, including a member of a 1% club, “without regard to or knowledge of that individual’s specific intent to engage in the alleged violent activities committed by other members, is antithetical to the basic principles enshrined in the First Amendment and repugnant to the fundamental doctrine of personal guilt that is a hallmark of American jurisprudence.”
Motorcycle clubs, including those clubs labeled organized or criminal gangs by authorities, are 1st Amendment protected associations. There is “no evidence that by merely wearing [motorcycle club] “colors,” an individual is “involved in or associated with the alleged violent or criminal activity of other [motorcycle club] members. It is a fundamental principle that the government may not impose restrictions on an individual “merely because an individual belong[s] to a group, some members of which committed acts of violence.” (See Coles v. Carlini, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, Civil No. 10-6132, Opinion, 9/30/2015, p.28) “[M]ere association with [a] group — absent a specific intent to further an unlawful aim embraced by that group — is an insufficient predicate for liability.” Claiborne, 458 U.S. at 925-26.
Targeting A Charity Event Is Unconstitutional and Immoral
Motorcycle club members are entitled to constitutional protection when traveling to and from a charity event. If, “At the time the motorcyclists were stopped, they were on their way to such a charity event,…a reasonable jury could find that they were entitled to some constitutional protection based on the specific activity they were engaged in, and association with the group for that purpose” would also be “protected by the First Amendment. (See Coles v. Carlini, 2015)
The Mule Run is undeniably a charity event. Independent of every individual constitutional violation involved in every stop, the overwhelming police operation negatively impacted attendance and the fundraising effort itself. “Mule Run co-organizer Jason Schlichting said Brother’s Word, his motorcycle club, said the event raised $9,000 for charity, but that the saturation dampened the turnout. “I do believe we were unfairly targeted, yes, excessive profiling,” he said. (See KCTV 5 News)
Legislation Addressing Motorcycle Profiling Is A Cost-Effective Solution.
Legislation requiring every law enforcement agency in the state to adopt a written policy condemning motorcycle profiling combined with basic training empirically reduces incidents of profiling virtually cost-free. One incident of motorcycle profiling involving over 50 officers and 2 helicopters costs infinitely more than a simple legislative solution.
Being in a motorcycle club is not illegal, including a club labeled a gang by law enforcement. There must be specific and articulable suspicion that an individual is involved in a crime, beyond mere membership in any group, before law enforcement action is justified. In a very real sense the fundamental rights of expression and association compromised by discriminatory policing serve as the very foundation of a free society.