Today marks not only the second anniversary of the tragic shootout involving Waco police and bikers in the Twin Peaks restaurant parking lot that left nine people dead or dying but the day when the statute of limitations brings down the curtain on filing any further civil-rights lawsuits regarding the incident, whether the complainants were indicted or not. Some law-abiding citizens might dismiss the idea of bikers having rights — particularly those associated with the warring Bandidos and Cossacks gangs — and yet questionable lapses in the local criminal justice system demand they now get fair hearings. Our interest should be with any innocent victims not only swept up in the violence that day but also subject to institutional injustices.
Whatever your feelings about bikers — and they really do come in all stripes and from all walks of life, including those who enjoy the motorcycle mode of transportation come spring weekends — all should question employing vague arrest warrant affidavits and million-dollar bonds (to “send a message”) to keep 177 people in county stir, some for weeks. While the Twin Peaks experience ought to deliver some valuable lessons to bikers — such as the absolute idiocy of wearing leather vests or sporting tattoos that suggest affiliation with groups identified by the Texas Department of Public Safety as organized-crime gangs — there are also constitutional issues that make all this a fiercely complicated matter.
During Saturday’s rally at McLennan County Courthouse to protest the way bikers have been treated by the criminal justice system, Mel Robins of the Sons of Liberty Riders Motorcycle Club cheered the filing of biker lawsuits (with more than 100 bikers represented) — and also the restraint some bikers have shown in seeking compensation for lives, families and careers uprooted. It’s important, he told the group, “that we not be filing for billions of dollars or millions of dollars [but] file for something the jury and the judges feel is a righteous amount. Don’t shoot for the moon. Go for what’s right.”
Meanwhile, impatience over delays in the criminal trials for the 155 indicted in connection with the Twin Peaks shootout is understandable. District Attorney Abel Reyna is probably right to balk in pressing these till federal prosecutors try key Bandidos leaders in San Antonio, given his decision to pursue local cases on organized crime charges and the fact federal prosecutors supposedly have information that could be relevant in the local trials. And as even bikers Saturday noted, those guilty of starting the parking-lot fight that led to all the death and chaos need convicting.
Even without all the evidence, certain lessons should have been embraced by now — and not just by the bikers. There’s no doubt that the scope and complexity of the Twin Peaks shootings tested local law enforcement like never before. Yet that experience should jolt all to realize there might well have been better ways for police to address the possibility of a violent confrontation between rival gangs that day. And it sure should have prompted quicker resolution of the incarcerated and their million-dollar bonds. We just hope that events don’t put us all to another such test anytime soon.