More than 500 motorcyclists rallied in downtown Waco on Sunday afternoon, uniting in the message that bikers are not criminals and protesting the treatment of the 177 bikers arrested after the May 17 shootout at Twin Peaks restaurant.
While at least 50 of those arrested have been released after their bonds were reduced from the original $1 million each, the fact that so many more remain behind bars is an injustice that is nothing short of criminal, protesters at the “All for 1” rally said.
The bikers expressed frustration at how those who ride motorcycles have been portrayed since the events unfolded at Twin Peaks, leaving nine dead, 18 wounded, a business closed and community shaken.
Some were angry with the entire Waco Police Department for its actions, while others didn’t begrudge the police officers but want the leaders they answer to held accountable.
The crowd, which sheriff’s officials estimated to be about 500 people, held homemade signs in front of the McLennan County Courthouse, some reading, “I’m not a gang member. I am a father, husband and Christian. I ride for enjoyment,” “It’s not illegal to be a biker” and “I ride. I vote. I pray. Tell me again how different we are.”
The day began at 8 a.m. with an event billed as the “Waco Freedom Ride,” a gathering at Sam’s Club on East Waco Drive. About 50 bikers participated in the mobile rally, some wearing shirts that read “Waco biker massacre” and “Read this: I’m not in a gang.”
The group rode en masse to the McLennan County Jail and drove through parts of Waco.
After a stop at Denny’s Restaurant for lunch, the rally of 50 quickly became several hundred as groups rode in from surrounding cities, gathering at the courthouse on Washington Avenue.
While hundreds protested, several groups took turns circling the jail on their bikes throughout the day.
John Bostick, 62, of Athens, came to the rally as part of the 2 Million Bikers to DC group to help reinforce that motorcyclists are not criminals.
“We’ve got a bad reputation,” he said, adding he thinks part of that is because of FX Network’s TV show “Sons of Anarchy.”
“They’re nothing like us,” he said.
A McLennan County prosecutor in a Friday bond hearing, however, offered a glimpse into what he said video evidence shows of the Twin Peaks shootout, which included “executions” of rival bikers. Videos show “Bandidos executing Cossacks and Cossacks executing Bandidos,” the prosecutor said.
But the fact that authorities haven’t released the video for public viewing or haven’t used it to release individuals who didn’t pull a trigger or thrust a knife infuriated some at the rally Sunday.
Joanna and John Duncan, of Waco, said they don’t know what happened that day at Twin Peaks, but they think the $1 million bond initially blanketed on everyone arrested was egregious.
They said many of those behind bars are working-class residents with families to support who have lost their jobs and have families facing financial hardships, all for being at a meeting organized to discuss legislative matters.
“It’s real simple. Go through the video, pull out everyone that wasn’t involved that day, and send them home without bond,” John Duncan said. “They have the evidence in hand. That’s what gets me.”
The jailed bikers each face a charge of engaging in organized criminal activity. Authorities have argued that those arrested were wearing vests and colors to associate themselves with rival groups that law enforcement considers “criminal outlaw gangs.”
Shelly Shong, 41, of Abilene, said she has several Cossacks friends who are still behind bars following the shootout. She said those individuals are nonviolent, and their families are suffering in their absence. She said she hopes officials realize the number of people who showed up to protest illustrates just how many believe that an injustice is being carried out.
Kay and Bennie Whitton, of Louisiana, said they rode in to stand up for their brothers and sisters.
“Family isn’t about blood. It’s about brother- and sisterhood,” she said.
Bennie Whitton said he has been to plenty of rallies in support of law enforcement and is not against police in general, but he thinks the actions taken after the shootings were unjust.
“It can turn you sour against law enforcement,” he said. “But we believe this is isolated.”
Outside the McLennan County Courthouse, numerous jokes were made about the 113-year-old Themis statue that crowns the historic building in downtown Waco. Bikers joked that it was all too fitting that the statue is missing her scales of justice. About a year ago, a storm ripped the left arm from the 18-foot-tall goddess of justice, flinging her scales to the ground.
Dot Green, who flew in from Houston, said it wasn’t just bikers who showed up at the rally but regular run-of-the-mill people who recognize “tyranny.”
“Only an idiot would believe that 176 hard-core criminals all showed up at a restaurant to start a big fight with the cops, and that they all deserve $1 million bails. Only an idiot could believe something like that,” Green said.
Lorena resident Tiffany Teeter, 22, rode her bike throughout the rally, despite a brace on her foot and crutches tied to the back of her bike. Teeter, who just had the cast removed from her foot a few days ago, laughed as she said the group was calling her “Legs.”
Despite the injury, staying home wasn’t an option, she said.
“Honestly, I believe what they have done arresting these 170-plus bikers is completely wrong,” she said. “I think it is completely illegal.”
Teeter said she doesn’t know any of the arrested personally, but she has ridden with many bikers since she got her own motorcycle at age 18.
“For me and most bikers, motorcycles isn’t just a hobby,” she said. “Riding isn’t just what you do in your car. It’s a lifestyle. I am a biker, and I will tell anyone that.”
She said she hopes to help change the negative perception she thinks people have of bikers.
“I go on so many benefit rides and do something during Christmas to raise money for the children,” she said. “There is so much bikers do for the community that people don’t talk about. I would like people to know what we do.”
Waco resident Steve Coleman, 67, said the events surrounding the Twin Peaks shootout have taken so much away from the positive charity work of some motorcycle groups.
Joe Miller, a veteran, said he and his wife have lived in Valley Mills for four years and this is the first time people have been nervous around them. He said people now stare them down any time they ride through town.
Mel Moss, 67, of Arlington, is the Sons of Liberty Riders RC president. He said his club works on legislative issues and in the decades that its meetings have been held, there’s never been a problem, except for May 17 in Waco.