World of Soul Motorcycle Community Calls for Permanent Solution to Dirt Bikes and ATVs on MLK Day
Spread across the American landscape a large number of celebrations commemorated the birth of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
In Miami, a group of motorcycle riders participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade reflecting their allegiance to Dr. King’s legacy.
By contrast, for the fourth year in a row another group consisting of motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts dangerously took over some of South Florida’s streets trying to spread a peaceful message and denounce gun violence. But if you asked car operators and onlookers impacted, they say otherwise – from the bobbing and weaving through traffic to some of them going into oncoming traffic.
It was a repeat of last year when Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler who was communicating with the city manager while watching live TV said, "We were stunned". What Mayor Seiler witnessed was footage of riders traveling the wrong way into northbound traffic on Interstate 95, cruising through red lights, pulling wheelies and photographing each other's antics. Crashes sent at least two bikers to hospitals.
This year’s "Wheels Up, Guns Down" protests saw riders numbering in the hundreds creating a spectacle of chaos and disorder while driving through the streets of both Miami and Broward County. Events streamed live on social media to an even broader audience and replayed during the evening news.
Motorcyclists and bikers from across the country were outraged at the wild display of recklessness under the facade of raising awareness for a good cause.
“The ride lost whatever positive message it had some years ago”, said one police official who warned riders days before of a “Zero Tolerance” policy during MLK Day Weekend.
In total, 8 felony arrests, 1 misdemeanor arrest, 2 traffic arrests, 72 ATVs/Dirt Bikes/Motorcycles impounded, 23 traffic citations issued and 4 firearms impounded according to Miami-Dade Police Department.
Mounting concerns surfaced as motorcyclists unassociated with the event voiced their opinions. Mainly, how the outcomes of "Wheels Up, Guns Down" reflects upon the image of motorcycling.
These are young people on sport bikes, dirt bikes and ATVs.
“There was a ride for the MLK parade today, I was signed up but didn’t go due to not wanting to be out with the illegal idiots”. Said David Bell, a motorcyclist from Miramar whose stepson participated in the “Wheels Up, Guns Down” last year.
“My stepson who is in his twenties now almost lost his job. He said, ‘It was fun’. I asked him, “What in the world were you thinking of” I just shook my head and said, Fun is getting your bike taken away and having to pay a thousand dollars to get it back? He did not do it this year”
Metris Batts, a rider from North Miami, community organizer observed, “riders are coming from all over for this thing. The problem is not limited to South Florida. They are coming from cities like Baltimore, Chicago, New York and North Carolina just to name a few.”
This is a national issue.
It use to be you might see 4-5 guys popping wheelies on the highway. What does it say now that you have eight hundred to a thousand coming in and taking over a city all at one time? The situation is out of control.
Joseph Rapley from Charlotte, North Carolina said, “It all started with the 12 o’ clock Boys in Baltimore – that’s where the evolution started. It is spreading across the country. That’s a police issue”
Some might argue that the issue is deeper than that. That the police are not equipped to handle the underlining issues.
Baltimore native, now Florida resident Reggie Wilson who retired from the Baltimore Police Department explained, “These kids are grafted into this culture. It's a way of life for them. There is a no chase policy which in essence emboldens riders more. So they taunt the police. They even sometimes circle around police cars, daring them to chase them.” Because of that alone, their activities don’t die – they multiply.
Social and economic ills are giving rise to new challenges. Young African American males growing up in urban communities without a father or positive male figure in their life who seek guidance and mentorship elsewhere is not new. Today they are more mobile and volatile.
“Seen a crash where a boy was projected into the air and landed dead instantly” , Wilson concluded.
This is not your traditional motorcycle community culture. The community is getting frustrated by the impact it is having on the image of “real motorcycle riders”.
“They made us look bad. We are into legal riding”, said, Cherylynn Wilcox another Miami-based motorcyclist, “If the idea of you going to jail, your bike being taken from you doesn't slow you down, what will?
But what about the young people, the issues they face and the reason they use this activity as an outlet? Can the two communities come together for change? Or will the latest group remain a castoff.
It would seem with all of the charitable causes the motorcycle community support that it would look to this issue as an opportunity and major focus as it relates to youth, education and the reduction of violence.
An inquiry to the Miami-Dade Police Department to find out who the organizers are has yet to receive a response at the time of this writing.
Situations like these undermine efforts to attract new riders into the sport. After all, who wants to be associated with that type of image?
Where are the manufacturers and retailers of these bikes on the issue?
One motorcycle industry insider relayed the consensus among industry leaders being “an absence of dealer enthusiasm and of effective leadership from industry groups Motorcycle Industry Council and American Motorcyclist Association" are cited for declining interest in motorcycling.
Terry Hardy, spokesperson for World of Soul Motorcyclist Association, a Chicago-based national motorcyclist advocacy organization suggest gathering those riders to have a conversation with them. “We need a communication and program strategy to combat the invitation and peer pressure to do the wrong thing. We recommend collaborating with World of Soul Motorcyclist Association, the local police department, department of transportation, motorcycle training program and media who will lend their voices and attract resources to provide some alternative direction toward responsible riding event planning and promotion. In the end, we all want to enjoy the ride and arrive home safely”.
World of Soul Motorcyclist Association has emerged to add value to the urban riding experience. Stemming from the World of Soul Motorcycle Community network of 9,600 motorcyclist and clubs, the association aims to leverage leadership from the diversity of riders to reach local enthusiasts to convey programs, services and events.
Ride for CHANGE Ride for HOPE is the association’s signature event. It promotes the American narrative that says despite our challenges we have always found ways to move the nation forward.
A call to action is out for diverse leadership among the motorcycle riding community to organize their advocacy for motorcycle safety, awareness, education and the overall image of motorcycling through local teams called Riders United to Serve Humanity, an initiative of World of Soul Motorcycle Community. They will act as intermediaries between the national organization and local communities.
“We want the public to know who we are or what we stand for. We represent the solution side of things”, Hardy said.
“They should all be arrested for reckless driving.” Said Scott Mochinski, director of a motorcycle rider safety program in Chicago, Illinois.
Hardy prefers to look at it as an opportunity to do more for motorcycling and the community-at-large. “I think if we started with a simple conversation these riders will find value elsewhere to enhance their unique riding experience. They just need to be exposed to more options”.
For more information regarding Riders United to Serve Humanity go to www.ridersunited.org or call Terry Hardy directly at 773-220-2602.