A year after a biker advocacy group tried to hold a meeting at the former Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, the organization says it is larger and more unified than before.
Ron “Bone” Blackett, Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents Region 1 chairman, said the May 17, 2015, shootout that left nine people dead and about two dozen others injured was an eye-opener in many ways for their organization.
But what happened that day did not deter the organization from continued efforts to improve legislation, stand up for bikers’ rights, and educate one another on community matters.
Blackett said the cases of those arrested following the shootout have been delayed as those involved with the McLennan County judicial system hope people forget about the melee and quit talking about injustices, whether real or perceived.
“We’re not forgetting. We’re getting stronger,” he said. “We’re going to continue fighting and help those get the justice they are supposed to get and that those at fault, whether patch or badge, be held accountable.”
Blackett said in the past year when the confederation hosts events, meetings or charity rides they have had larger-than-ever turnouts — from new members to families and supporters — as more people rally behind the organization and its history of activism.
Blackett said the confederation has a good relationship with the Austin Police Department. He said it doesn’t cause trouble, and it polices its own to make sure people aren’t doing anything stupid. Blackett said he enjoys the lifestyle, and while there are some rough edges to it, he is not running drugs and guns or otherwise causing problems. He said he celebrates the brotherhood and the lifestyle, learning from traditions that go along with it.
Blackett said there are thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts in Texas. Many of them wear patches, vote, and are fathers, mothers, sisters or brothers.
Blackett said the COC&I talks a lot about building relationships with local state representatives and researches potential candidates running for office. He said the COC&I works to educate the different clubs about voting rights and issues that affect them and their families.
“We have more and more riders getting out from behind their damn computer and we’re getting out there, boots on the ground, and voting in groups for local officials,” he said. “I told them, ‘Be loud and proud, wear your cut. Let the representatives see you in line voting, that we’re watching and that we’re law-abiding citizens, registered voters.’ ”
Despite the deadly shootout before last year’s meeting, Blackett said the biker culture has changed since the old days of rough-and-tumble biker groups often operating outside of the law.
“We don’t have clubs that go out and have knife fights in the parking lot . . . as CNN labeled it, the biker brawl,” he said. “I know it happened a year ago, but that’s a whole different weird situation. The COC basically is a platform where people from all walks of life can come together on common-ground subjects, such as safety.”
Blackett said the COC&I has a great working relationship with the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Department of Public Safety and many other motorcycle safety organizations. The idea is to work with one another to find ways to save lives, like adding a curriculum to driver’s education that teaches new drivers to watch for motorcycles.
“We’re not criminals. We’re educated. I’m a professional in my job. I’m educated. I’m a father of four kids, a husband,” he said. “With this confederation, I can tell you in the last 10 years of my life I have done more to selflessly help others in need than the rest of my life combined. It’s because of the overall heart and passion behind it. People care about each other. They get along with each other. Stupid s--- doesn’t take place.”
The history of the justice and law enforcement system in Waco is not the best, he said, adding that no one expected what happened that day to occur.
As a result of the deadly shootout, more than 190 people have been arrested, 154 of whom have been indicted on first-degree felony engaging in organized criminal activity charges.
“That was my meeting,” he said.
Blackett said he was serving as vice chairman at the time the meeting was scheduled. He said he put the agenda for the day together, and “we were trying to share the love” by hosting the meeting in another part of Region 1.
Traffic caused Blackett to arrive at the scene after the shootings occurred.
“I lucked out,” he said.
After “recognizing the environment,” he said, he and a few other latecomers drove to a nearby gas station to find out what was going on. Police officers approached the group and they were told they had five minutes to get out of Waco or they would land behind bars, he said.
“So we got out of there.”
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said he is trying to stay out of the matter to prevent jeopardizing any of the pending cases.
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton declined comment. Waco police have regularly declined comment since July about any of the cases, citing a gag order that was imposed in just one of the cases regarding Hewitt biker Matthew Clendennen.
Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman did not return calls for comment.
Blackett said he has learned a lot since May 17, 2015, about the events that unfolded that day, much of which he said he wouldn’t discuss for fear of jeopardizing anyone’s case. Blackett said the confederation does not want to do anything to stand in the way of justice.
“The biggest challenge — and I mean no offense to you — the biggest challenge we have is the negative narrative that, law enforcement especially, is using the media to get out there,” he said.
For the past year, the confederation has held fundraisers to help raise money for those arrested and the families affected. Clubs across the country continue to hold events to raise money, he said, citing a recent event in Iowa. Blackett said he is waiting for due process to take place, and he hopes those who broke the law that day are not able to hide behind immunity or hidden deals with law enforcement. Moving forward, he said, he hopes the focus shifts less on the incident itself and more on the civil rights side.
“Are these people’s rights being violated? Have they gone through due process?” Blackett said. “(Law enforcement is) fishing in an empty pond and they are ruining lives, and now they have to save face.
“Me personally, I won’t spend a penny in Waco. I go through the area quite often but I will not stop. I don’t know if you can write it or not, but f--- Waco.”
Blackett said the confederation in a matter of minutes last May learned of the true aggressiveness and what he said is the corrupt behavior of certain law enforcement agencies.
“We’ve actually grown a lot stronger and a lot tighter. That’s not just here, that’s everywhere,” he said of the COC&I. “We’re more determined than ever to do what’s right and do it the right way.”