June 09, 2015

US: Murky goings-on in Waco, James Tweedie, Morning Star, Jun 2 2015

posted by Morning Star in Features
link: http://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-7584-US-Murky-goings-on-in-Waco#.VXe6sFIorD2
A suspiciously large number of questions remain to be answered over the recent Hell’s Angels-style biker shoot-out in Texas, says JAMES TWEEDIE

WHAT would you think if you read that three dozen people, from a marginalised section of society, had been shot in a US city with a history of excessive violence by officers of the law, and that crucial facts about the incident — which involved heavily armed paramilitary police — were being kept secret?

You might be forgiven for thinking that there had been yet another police massacre of black people and that the civil rights movement and community organisations would be up in arms. Well, you’d be wrong.

On Sunday May 17 of this year it was reported that nine people had been killed and 27 injured in a shoot-out between Hell’s Angels-style bikers in the Texas town of Waco, most famous for the 1993 Branch Davidian siege and massacre.

The initial reports were straightforward. About a dozen biker gangs had held a lunchtime meeting at the local branch of the Twin Peaks restaurant chain, a Hooters-style “breastaurant.” A brawl broke out in the toilets between members of three gangs, the Bandidos, the Cossacks and the Scimitars. The fight spilled out into the car park, where knives were drawn, then handguns, resulting in a deadly gunfight. Police arrested nearly 200 bikers and confiscated about 100 weapons.

Social media began to buzz with people comparing the supposed kid-glove handling of the bikers with the heavy handed policing — and hostile media response — to protests in Ferguson and Baltimore over the killings of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. Bloggers and tweeters demanded to know why the National Guard weren’t on the streets of Waco, why protesters weren’t being tear-gassed and arrested and why the media wasn’t deriding the “white skinheads” as thugs.

But the plot thickens. Almost immediately serious questions began to be asked about the police version of events in Waco that Sunday lunchtime.

The meeting at the Twin Peaks restaurant was organised by the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents (COC&I), a kind of trades council for bikers, weeks in advance. At least 13 motorcycle clubs were present. According to the website of one, the Vise Grip, previous COC&I meetings had been addressed by congressmen and lawyers.

Blogger The Ageing Rebel points out that the Waco Police Department had pressured Twin Peaks manager Jay Patel, one of five men of Indian descent who own the bar, to refuse the confederation entry in advance. But Patel obviously considered the club members good customers since he’d made Thursday night “biker night” and he refused. The day after the shooting, authorities revoked the restaurant’s alcohol licence and brand owner Front Burner Restaurants cancelled its franchise — a clear case of punishing the victim.

When the bikers arrived for their lunch meeting they found a heavily armed force of 22 police — 12 normal uniformed officers plus a 10-strong Swat team — waiting for them outside the restaurant. What exactly happened next is unclear and controversial.

A security camera video from the restaurant shows contradicts the police claim that the fight started inside the restaurant. When shooting breaks out outside on the patio, patrons take cover or try to flee the building through the kitchen. Crucially, only one biker can be seen firing a gun on the patio.

When the smoke cleared the police arrested almost everyone left standing. Some were kept handcuffed for 14 hours. One hundred and seventy were charged under Texas’s organised crime laws. They face life imprisonment or even the death penalty if convicted. The day after the shooting the whole city of Waco was “locked down” by police. The Texas Department of Public Safety leaked a confidential bulletin to the media claiming that the Bandidos were arming themselves with “grenades and C4 explosives” and were plotting to kill “high-ranking law enforcement officials and their families with car bombs.”

Why would they target the police if their comrades were killed by members of another club?

The Waco Police Department has admitted that its officers fired shots in the incident, but it still hasn’t said who shot who. Four days after the shooting Waco PD spokesman Sergeant Patrick Swanton — in response to allegations that officers had killed four of the bikers — claimed that the autopsies were not yet complete, but that his colleagues were innocent. Yet following the incident 14 officers were placed on “administrative leave” — standard procedure for officers who have killed a suspect.

Swanton’s story keeps changing. First he claimed members of two gangs were involved in the shooting, then five. At one point he said that 1,000 “weapons” had been found in the vicinity, including AK-47s and body armour. With the credibility gap widening, serious questions remain unanswered. Was this yet another case of “contagious shooting” by trigger-happy police? Was the Waco “biker shoot-out” in fact a police massacre?

Who were these “white thugs”? As the police released a gallery of 170 mugshots with names, it became clear that many were Hispanic, at least two were black and one was a woman. Relatives said they held down jobs like driving lorries, raised money for local charities and were good family men. One is a retired police detective. One of the clubs present was the Vietnam Veterans — by definition men in their sixties or seventies. The Vise Grip refurbish and ride vintage Harley Davidsons.

Despite Swanton’s claims that they were “a bunch of criminal element biker members that came to Waco and tried to instil violence,” only five of the nine killed and 115 of the 170 injured had any kind of criminal record — pretty poor showing for supposed gangsters.

Take, for example, Jesus Delgado Rodriguez, one of the dead. He was a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, a recipient of the Purple Heart medal given to soldiers wounded or killed in combat. He had no criminal record and his family say he was not a member of any gang when he was killed. His son-in-law Amado Garces said: “If he thought there was going to be violence he wouldn’t have gone.”

There are plenty of genuine comparisons to be made between Waco, Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland and so on. The dead have been defamed by police with vague allegations of criminality that don’t stand up to close scrutiny. Members of their community have been accused of plotting violence against public order. The media is lapping up the official version of events and failing to question the obvious contradictions.

Outlaw bikers are perennial outcasts in society, subject to prejudice, discrimination and demonisation since the Hollister “riots” — the sensationalist media spin on a weekend’s drunken revelling — of 1947. Let’s not be mistaken — outlaw bikers aren’t choirboys on choppers. Some drink heavily, take drugs and frequently get into fights. The same is true of everyone at the arse end of the class hierarchy.

The great US journalist Hunter S Thompson rode with the most notorious motorcycle club of them all — the Hell’s Angels — for two years, got drunk and stoned with them and was eventually beaten up by a bunch of them.

In his book on the gang, Thompson tells how towns organised bands of gun-toting vigilantes when outlaw biker “runs” descended on their picture-book communities for the weekend. Vigilantism is a US tradition dating back to before independence. It has always been directed against outsiders and undesirables — immigrants, free blacks, smallholding farmers, trade unionists and bikers.

Any assertive white working-class subculture — teddy boys, mods and rockers, metalheads, skinheads, punks and so on — is commonly dismissed as racist, misogynist and thuggish by the middle classes. It’s easier to call Texan bikers red-necks — a class prejudicial term — than to see them as fellow oppressed of the class system.

Dealing with police racism in the US is long overdue, but that alone won’t solve other critical problems. Police in the US are increasingly militarised, equipped with army-surplus armoured vehicles, body armour and assault rifles. Swat teams are used in thousands of routine home searches and arrests. Hundreds are killed by police every year, yet no government agency compiles a comprehensive record of such incidents.

Those who claim to speak for the marginalised victims of police brutality in the US industrial heartlands have missed an opportunity to make common cause with the bikers of Texas. Instead they let their prejudices get the better of them or claimed “white privilege” had somehow protected the pariahs of society.

There was no tear-gassing of protesters in Waco simply because there were no protests in solidarity with the dead, injured and unjustly imprisoned. No-one outside the outlaw biker subculture seems to care. In the words of the Motorhead song, co-written by Hell’s Angel Guy “Tramp” Lawrence, “they were all born to lose.”

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