Outlaws Outlawed

Photo courtesy of Daily Telegraph

Photo courtesy of Daily Telegraph

Bikies associating with other bikies? Nuh-uh.

Bikies drinking alcohol in their clubhouse? Nope.

Bikies playing pool in their clubhouse? NO WAY!

A few news items have recently caught my attention where members of the New South Wales police have raided the clubhouses of motorcycle gangs and confiscated everything… including pool tables.

Really? Have these police not watched Sons of Anarchy? They don’t store illegal goods inside their pool table. They use the pool table to play well, pool… and to occasionally entertain female acquaintances… But if they have anything illegal to hide, check the off-site warehouses. They do however have their personal stash of guns on site, but come on… fairs fair! They should be entitled to personal protection when Mexican drug cartels unexpectedly come a-knockin.

So, are the real-life bikies hard done by or have they simply brought this on themselves? Or are we talking storms and teacups?

First of all, let me make a clear distinction. Motorcycle groups generally disconnected from criminal activity do exist, such as The Ulysses Club. A social club for over 40’s who, among other things, do ride for charity in the name of diabetes and fallen police officers. Apparently they have over 60,000 members.

At the opposite end of the spectrum sit the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, or OMCG’s. Hells Angels, Comancheros, Bandidos and the like. These groups are well known for the headline feeding shootouts. Not many people in Milperra get that warm and fuzzy feeling when Father’s Day arrives each year. A shootout at the local tavern left 7 dead, including 1 innocent bystander, 28 wounded, and resulted in a trial involving 63 convictions of murder and 147 of manslaughter.

So what caused the recent government-driven, legislated crackdown?

Surely it wasn’t just that one incident in Milperra 30 years ago? Or two incidents, and I’m being generous by combining them into one, if you include the 13 separate shootings that occurred around Western Sydney in 2008 in a two week period. Maybe they tacked on the unfortunate events in Mackay, Melton, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, Western Australia… ok, the pattern suddenly becomes a little difficult to hide. But the final straw, in New South Wales anyway, appeared to be the shooting death of Anthony Zervas at Sydney Airport in March 2009. Let’s be honest, could two rival gangs have picked a worse place to duke it out? Very public, full of innocent civilians, families, and for sake of conversation, let’s throw in first-time Aussie tourists as well. An instant PR nightmare.

A month later the New South Wales government passed the Crimes (Criminal Organisations Control) Bill 2009. That particular law didn’t stick, but the ball was already rolling and in late 2013 they got their legislation through, despite fervent opposition.

In a nutshell, bike gangs can now be declared as “criminal organisations” and people can be arrested based purely on association and being in the presence of other criminals. I won’t go into legal specifics because I want you to reach the end of the post without drifting off. But obviously, everyone associated with motorcycle gangs have a criminal history. Again I point to Sons of Anarchy, and the police photos proudly adorning the clubhouse wall – of course everything that happens on television mirrors real life! Don’t tell me otherwise!

In all seriousness, official estimates do land somewhere in the region of 50-60% of OMCG members having some sort of criminal record, and that doesn’t include minor traffic offences, as some would argue. See… I didn’t use TV as my yardstick!

But how does Johnny Law differentiate between an outlaw gang, and a motorcycle group, such as the Ulysses Club? To begin with, they don’t. Ulysses members have been stopped on numerous occasions while riding and were required to present ID but some have been quoted as saying they don’t have a problem with it if it helps the greater good. That is, stopping the criminal activity, and early.

And is there any weight to the hysteria of civil libertarians arguing that police won’t stop at motorcycle gangs with this legislation and that all sorts of clubs ought to be concerned?

Of course there bloody isn’t. Really? I’m sorry, but what sane-minded person would suddenly think the police are going to eventually target every loosely defined club in the state? I’ll sleep very well in the confidence that the police aren’t interested in my football club, and our single locked up shed of nets, balls, flags, jerseys, and witches hats. Maybe if me and 30 of my football mates decide to create a 50+ year history of violence, drug dealing, shootings etc., rather than just rocking up and playing football on a Saturday afternoon, then maybe my level of concern would rise marginally.

Different OMCG’s at different times have been confirmed as involved with drugs, extortion, prostitution, chop shops, blackmail, extortion, violence, money laundering and firearms. But figures in New South Wales suggest the crimes attributed to outlaw motorcycle gangs account for less than 1% of all crime in the state. Doesn’t sound like much does it?

This systematic cleaning up of OMCG’s, raiding their clubhouses, and confiscating their pool tables is not going to see a dramatic decrease in crime. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean their activities should be ignored, and trying to discourage association with criminals isn’t such a bad thing is it? Especially not for the younger kids that still have time to choose a different path.

At this point, the media are in full flight, as are the motorcycle riders and the civil libertarians, but it all seems to be one big public show from the politicians and police alike. Give it some time for the hysteria to drop back to normal levels, and I’m more than happy to predict that any OMCG member who ends up in prison deserves to be there.

In the meantime, give them back their pool tables and let them play. Some members will no doubt end up behind the eight ball anyway.

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