As a veteran, community member and sworn defender of the U.S. Constitution, I’ve been too quiet. I’ve waited to see how facts emerged from this Twin Peaks incident in Waco. Apparently they are not going to be released in a timely manner.

I call this an incident, not a tragedy, because it came about through various groups of people with their own decision-making abilities. I will say this to every group involved: How dare you bring your issues into a busy shopping center when it endangered people who don’t share your priorities, beliefs or values? None of you — Cossacks, Bandidos, law enforcement or support units of each group — have the right to endanger others.

And that’s exactly what all of you did.

The Cossacks: Honestly, I have heard so many stories about why you were dying for a showdown with the Bandidos. I really don’t care what it was about. You as a group came to cause a problem, to fight or whatever, and this is the result. Whether you’re a so-called “good Cossack” or “bad Cossack” in the eyes of the dead makes no difference. They’re still dead.

The Bandidos: I don’t know your issues with the Cossacks, but again it makes no difference to the dead on the ground. All of you as a club were aware the Cossacks were looking for a fight so I suspect you travelled in a state of readiness. I don’t know if you knew this would be the day, but knowing this was nonetheless a big problem. Thus, going to a shopping center in the middle of Waco was not a smart decision.

Law enforcement agencies: It’s said you had solid evidence something might go down that day from credible sources inside the Cossacks. Apparently you had evidence because you showed up with automatic weapons and placed them discreetly and tactically in a shopping center on a Sunday morning between restaurants where many churchgoers eat after religious services. Community safety should have been more efficiently addressed.

The job of law enforcement is to prevent this — not to kill perpetrators who may start a rumble, riot or fight. How about a show of force? Enough visible police vehicles and personnel in the immediate area would have likely caused the Cossacks to go home and save any clash for another day, preferably in a less populated area. That really was the job of law enforcement.

Someone not well versed with the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure or under stress possibly gave the OK to arrest everyone with a vest or colors, as some call them. With advance knowledge of this event, police were confident enough to identify warring factions. With that same information, police should have then let the obvious non-warring individuals go.

Yes, police had reasonable suspicion to detain and identify most of the folks there. But before police arrest and charge someone with a crime, they are required to have probable cause and they clearly did not in all cases on May 17. See under Police Academy 101.

Many police officers and community leaders know me. I’m sure my comments will anger them, but I say what many in our community are feeling. Most of us have tremendous regard for law enforcement and all they do on a daily basis. But this incident was mishandled. Bad decisions were made at many levels, including most recently by the district attorney.

This country has historically let a guilty man go free before punishing an innocent one. Some of those arrested must now spend money they don’t have. They might lose jobs, vehicles, food on their table, just to make a ridiculous bond. And that outrages, especially when the charge levelled is so vague.

I challenge the district attorney and our district judges to review these cases promptly and dismiss. Expunge records of the innocent. On your orders these charges can be dismissed. If you need a reason, how about lack of evidence? When you have evidence on individuals, then and only then refile.

Am I a biker? Yes, I have ridden 45 years. Will I take my vest off? No. My freedom of speech allows me to wear it. If you take time to read it before you cuff me, you’ll see it honors those killed in our nation’s wars. It shows respect for the fallen, prisoners of war and those missing in action. As a veteran I belong to a club that is unique. I speak here today as a veteran and motorcycle rider who has the same constitutional rights as those who choose not to ride.

It will take real men to straighten all this out without further persecuting and penalizing the innocent.

Bill Mahon, a local Vietnam veteran, also served as McLennan County veterans service officer. He also led efforts to keep the then-Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center from closing.