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Bikers, violence and justice

In Australia there is currently a political and media frenzy about biker violence. I'm not underestimating the seriousness of the tragic deaths of brothers in recent conflicts; the anguish, anger and distress such violence produces for the loved ones of the victims is incalculable. But from a public standpoint, compared with three recent public massacres in as many weeks in America, it is much less a major cultural issue.

Certainly we should never judge a book by its cover. I remember the days when hippies with long hair were beaten up by straights with wild imaginations about the hippy lifestyle.

Now law is a strange thing. I am in solidarity with my biker brothers in opposition to the consorting laws being enacted against all outlaw clubs. I believe you shouldn't unfairly condemn someone because they are friends with a proven felon.

After all, Jesus was a friend of publicans, sinners and other outcasts, according to scriptures. Under the NSW laws against biker association, all that Jesus' detractors had to do was check out the fact that two of Jesus' disciples had been Zealots (terrorists). He could have been arrested and jailed for consorting with known criminals!

One of the main reasons bikers are being persecuted, I believe, is not simply the criminal activity of a relative few, but their strong public disdain for the hypocritical society they live in. This is not a moral crime.

If, however, some of my brothers are dealing and producing speed, I have a personal reason to feel deeply angry. I almost lost a son through that paranoid-inducing drug many years ago, so I've seen the madness it produces. I am also aware the old book is right when it says the love of money is the root of every kind of evil.

Brothers blind themselves to the madness and cruelty of the amphetamine trade. The price is right for the dealer but deadly for the victim. Our own turf wars used to be about an honour code (perhaps misguided) but now they are, I believe, about another turf and money, not honour.

Consorting laws have been shown in the past to be a path to injustice and abuse of police power. When we first founded a street-style church in the 1970s, Victorian consorting laws permitted police to wait outside our church and arrest young offenders who were worshipping together. They had become committed Christians, had quit crime but were arrested at church for being in association with one another!

Today, under the laws in NSW and other states, I would be prepared to be jailed for resisting consorting laws — laws that violate several human rights elements of the United Nations Charter, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of association. Going to jail for the right reasons is noble. In effect Jesus called for a kind of civil disobedience. He went to jail for justice.

On the other hand, I am not soft towards drug-running or violence. My appeal to my brothers is for the current violence to stop. Violence does not prove manhood. After all, you can train a dog to kill on call. It doesn't make a dog a man.

I do embrace the biker code, death before dishonour. I do believe in loyalty to your mates. And I do believe it is right to negotiate, not just stride into someone else's turf without seeking relationship and negotiation.

But becoming attack dogs is a tragedy. We have enough detractors and enemies without making enemies of brothers who share our love for the road and for outspokenness against the hypocrisy of the system. If we continue this way we will devour each other, and give cause (as society sees it) to rob us of our freedoms.

The problem is, violence just doesn't work. Where does it end? I was once a history teacher, and a study of even so-called just wars shows that seeds of retribution are sown for generations in the future. It is arguable that the humiliating Treaty of Versailles, which loaded the complex blame for WWI on the Germans alone, set the stage for the Germans to follow Hitler's mad attempt to dominate the world as a superior race.

Anthropologists tell us that wars between tribes have been a mark of human behaviour, but when members of the same tribe start killing each other it indicates the culture is in serious trouble. When bikers are killing bikers it is culturally a sad day and indicates self-destruction.

It's strange that grown men in the biker scene can face the bullet but not the peer group pressure, even when we know we will break the hearts of those we love if the war escalates. In the face of several deaths and acts of violence in our biker scene, it is time for some clear thinking, and some peace making, before it's too late.

This is an excerpt from the John Smith Quarterly Essay, which is coming soon from Concern Australia. Subscribe to the email or post version of the essay today at John Smith Quarterly.

John SmithJohn Smith is a leading advocate for the urban poor and marginalised and founder of God's Squad Christian Motorcycle Club and Concern Australia. With a PhD in Cultural Anthropology, John is a social commentator, author and lecturer.

Topic tags: john smith, quarterly essay, concern australia, consorting laws, bikies



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Existing comments

Well said. I had a marriage destroyed through the psychosis of the amphetamine trade. Your points always address where the rubber hits the road.

Helen | 15 May 2009  

I agree wholeheartedly. Any person in society who breaks the law should be punished within the law when it is proven that they are guilty. We cannot allow groups within our society to be victimised because some of their number might break the law. It is sadly recognised fact that most outlaw clubs these days are just a front for organised crime and our criminal system seems to be ineffective against the drug trade no matter which group is doing the trafficking.

Joanna Crook | 19 May 2009  

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