IN THE ’90s it was a common thing that one in five letters to Ozbike was a gripe about cops. Every second column of ex-Editor Bullbar’s was an impassioned verbal assault on the boys in blue. In the ’70s it was ‘the man holding you down’. In the ’80s it was ‘yuppy scum’. As the decades slip past, it seems there’s always some area of society hassling motorcycle enthusiasts.
The ’90s saw a massive growth in Harley sales and the seeming ‘acceptance’ of bikers by the wider community. In my infamous HOG column I wrote about this phenomenon, with the clichéd view of all modern bikers as doctors, lawyers or grey-bearded charity workers. While it could be said that the general populace still holds this relatively positive view of bikies, if you read the papers for long enough, you’ll see that anti-biker sentiment is rife amongst police and politicians.
This year seems to have shown an increase in anti-biker sentiment, with police and politicians publicly proclaiming that they are targeting bikies. Some would say that all this is nothing new. The cops have always had it in for motorcyclists. But I would argue that it is indeed different now, and that some problems unique to the 21st century have emerged.
Firstly, this is not just about cops. The main ‘players’ in this game also include politicians, the general public and the media. These groups are easily defined and don’t need further explanation. We, on the other hand, do. What is a bikie? How does that term differ from ‘biker’, ‘motorcyclist’, or ‘hoon’?
While everyone may define these things differently, the word ‘motorcyclist’ can generally indicate any person on a motorcycle. It’s no doubt a very positive description, ‘motorcycle enthusiast’ possibly being the only nicer term.
The Harley rider biker
‘Biker’ conjures up images of black leather and denim, possibly a ‘scruffier’ version of a motorcyclist—perhaps a Harley rider.
‘Bikie’ is a word that I don’t hear us bikers use very much, but one that is often used to describe the stereotypical ‘bad’ biker: big, fat, ugly, bearded, tattooed Harley-riding outlaw gang member. That’s a very broad description of how society views motorcyclists, but here’s where it becomes an issue.
In Rebecca Marshall’s Sunshine Coast Daily article (Police target highway speedsters), Ms Marshall refers to a ‘posse of bikies’, ‘speedsters’, ‘motorcyclists’, ‘bikers’, and finally one of the motorcyclists who ‘had an association with an outlaw motorcycle gang’. Now, I’m reading that story and trying to picture exactly what type of riders these guys were, and I have no idea! Motorcyclists are not all the same, and this needs to be recognised, especially by law enforcement agencies, and ideally by the media.
When I read a headline that says, ‘Police announce bikie crackdown’, regardless of agreeing or disagreeing with such strategies, I want to know what that means. Does it mean they are targeting all motorcycle riders? Generally the police use the terms fairly accurately, though of course they use terms that most club members disagree with.
Police brass use ‘bikie’ to describe outlaw club members, and of course use ‘bikie gang’ to describe outlaw clubs. But do police on the ground actually know the difference between the many types of bikers, and does that matter? Well, it matters to bikers, and it should matter to police.
…there’s a hell of a lifestyle difference…
We all know that there’s a hell of a lifestyle difference between a Hells Angels patch-wearer, a HOG member, and a Ducati 996-riding boy racer. To class them all as ‘bikies’ is just stupid. It alienates the entire motorcycling community and is probably a very inefficient way of dealing with the alleged problem.
So the current state of play is very curious to say the least. I believe the intent of the police brass is to target outlaw clubs (I’m not arguing the idiocy of Operation Hydra and AVATAR, etc, here; that would take too many pages) but due to the media’s hype-driven error-riddled coverage of ‘bikie’ issues, and frontline police not receiving clear instructions from above, on the ground it looks a bit different. It seems that cops these days are ‘cracking down on bikies’ with no particular method of doing so. What exactly is there to crack down on? Do they even know the difference between a HOG member and an outlaw club member?
So we’ve got millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded shiny specialist squads with great names like AVATAR tailing outlaw bike clubs on poker runs. Then Constable Bloggs is told not to intercept them because a deal has been made by police brass (Fury at police deal on Finks; goldcoast.com.au). No doubt Constable Bloggs gets the shits and completely hammers the next biker he pulls over for something like ‘irregular helmet chin-strap length.’
There are obviously a lot of big issues here. Harassment of outlaw motorcycle clubs has always been a pastime of police and is as strong and unwarranted today as ever. But we went through a stage there in the ’90s where the general biker population pretty much knew what they were getting when a cop pulled them over. Today, you have no idea. We could go on a poker run with an outlaw club and get a police escort as I did last year with the Northern Beaches Rebels. Or you could have been on the Hells Angels Anzac Day Poker Run where the entire group was dangerously harassed. On that particular day when tens of cops were chasing those bikers, how many drink-drivers in cars were waved past?
…who’s to blame for this…
I don’t know who’s to blame for this but I don’t believe it’s the frontline cop. He’s just doing what he’s told. Leadership is required, both by senior police, politicians and the media. If senior police could give their frontline cops some direction, rather than just a general ‘bikie crackdown’ order, the situation could be improved. If newspapers could cover stories with professional integrity instead of sensationalising the tattooed bearded biker at every opportunity, perhaps we’d have a clearer idea of exactly what the problem is.
But this is of course just pie-in-the-sky bullshit, and I know that the next time I get out on my bike it’ll be the usual lottery of which cop will pull me over and provide me with his own personal demonstration of a bikie crackdown. In that respect, at least, it seems that not much has changed.