Saturday 30 May 2015

From Baltimore to Waco: folk-devils and paranoid cops

A couple of weeks ago there was the 'biker shoot out' at Waco Texas. Predictably stories of the shootings that left nine dead and 170 arrested were accompanied in the media by regurgitated 'layman's guides' to the workings of outlaw MC's. The implication was that the events has just scratched the surface, and that hordes of lawless and nihilistic folk-devils were lurking not far beneath. 

Now that the dust has settled a different story is starting to emerge: The biker meeting at the Twin Peaks diner was not some pre-arranged stand-off lifted from the script of a B-movie, but a regional meeting of the Coalition of Clubs - a riders' rights organisation the like of which we have in this country. Eyewitnesses say that most of the shots fired came not from bikers but from the police. Video footage mostly shows unarmed bikers diving for cover once shooting from a distance starts. One of those killed has since revealed to have been not an outlaw but a member of of a veterans' club who was  decorated with a Purple Heart in Vietnam. In fact many of the 170 arrested are not 1%-ers,  but members of what in the states are called mom-and-pop clubs -  or MCCs over here in the UK - with no criminal records. 

It's an all too-familiar picture of an overly-empowered police force with a culture of gung-ho machismo fuelled by a paranoid fear of 'the other. And it's worth remembering at this point that the  Waco bikers were largely blue-collar whites - or in other words the same demographic as most of the redneck law-enforcement. Throw in a large dose of not-so latent racism too, and as we have seen in Fergusson, Baltimore and in fact all over the US in the past year, there is something very rotten in the state of America. 

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