Posted on May 24, 2016

The profiling of members of certain motorcycle clubs has garnered national attention, and the actions of the various law enforcement agencies are in conflict with supreme court rulings on the subject. The latest in this fray comes from Florida. Read the report put out by David "Double D" Devereaux of the Motorcycle Profiling Project to see how far this has gone.

ABC Action News in Tampa Bay recently released an expose titled “Uncovering the Tampa Bay firefighters who run with criminal motorcycle gangs” asserting that club members in public safety positions has law enforcement concerned. A few days after this expose, Tampa Bay PD tased and arrested a member of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club at a local bar claiming that he had resisted arrest and assaulted police officers. However, video footage capturing the incident shows officers tasing the club member while he had his hands behind his back in compliance with the officer’s demands. Although the officer’s actions are inexcusable and deserving of civil and criminal liability, the actions of ABC Action News are equally deplorable and should be condemned in the court of public opinion.

ABC Action News in Tampa Bay is a primary example of promoting extremely irresponsible journalism in favor of tabloid-like sensationalism. This attempt to spread fear, as opposed to truth, furthers a stereotype fueling an epidemic of motorcycle profiling and discrimination nationwide.  ABC Action News, flying in the face of fundamental constitutional principles, condemns and judges men dedicated to public safety.  Men that have no criminal records. Men dedicated to saving human lives. Men that are Captains of Fire Departments in the Tampa Bay Area. Suggesting that restrictions should be imposed on these individuals, restrictions like access to public safety employment opportunities, merely based on their membership in a motorcycle club, violates the doctrine of personal guilt and the rights to expression and association embedded in the 1st Amendment.

Motorcycle clubs, including those clubs labeled organized or criminal gangs by authorities, are First Amendment protected associations. There is “no evidence that by merely wearing [motorcycle club] “colors,” an individual is “involved in or associated with the alleged violent or criminal activity of other [motorcycle club] members. It is a fundamental principle that the government may not impose restrictions on an individual “merely because an individual belong[s] to a group, some members of which committed acts of violence.” In fact, the Supreme Court has long “disapproved governmental action . . . denying rights and privileges solely because of a citizen’s association with an unpopular organization.” Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 185-86 (1972).

To impose restrictions on any person who wears the insignia of a motorcycle club, “without regard to or knowledge of that individual’s specific intent to engage in the alleged violent activities committed by other members, is antithetical to the basic principles enshrined in the First Amendment and repugnant to the fundamental doctrine of personal guilt that is a hallmark of American jurisprudence. (See Coles v. Carlini, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, Civil No. 10-6132, Opinion, 9/30/2015, p.28)

Public perception and opinion in many ways determines policy. The role of the news media should be to inform the public as accurately as possible in hopes of encouraging ethical public policy. ABC Action News is an embarrassment to journalism and outrageously ignorant of the same 1st Amendment principles that protect their ability to spread irresponsible tabloid media.

The Supreme Court has long disapproved of governmental action denying rights and privileges solely because of a citizen’s association with an unpopular organization.  ABC Action News should be dedicated to reporting that governmental discrimination and profiling, even against motorcycle clubs, is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s long held mandate. But that would require focusing on the importance of fundamental liberties as opposed to the commercial value of abhorrent tabloid journalism. 

David "Double D" Devereaux is the Spokesperson for the Washington State Council of Clubs, Founder of the Motorcycle Profiling Project, and works with motorcyclists at the national level.

Tony Sanfelipo
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Senior Motorcycle Accident Investigator