Apples, Oranges, and Biker Gangs

You probably about heard about that big biker gang shootout down in Waco, just as you probably heard about the riots in Baltimore, and in both cases you probably concluded they were unfortunate incidents caused by unsavory people. Those who worry about such things, though, are worried the news media might have caused you to be more appalled by the latter than the former.
Almost all of the unsavory people rioting in Baltimore were black, many of the unsavory people shooting it out in Waco were white, and these days the ensuing coverage is to be judged accordingly. Over at they were offended that the riot was typically described as a “riot” and the shootout as a “shootout,” while lawyer and “community organizer” Sally Kohn was among many who were offended that the rioters were often called “thugs” while those involved in the shootout as were more frequently dubbed “biker gangs,” all over the left side of the internet there was great consternation about the amount of attention being paid, and of course all of these discrepancies were blamed on the subtle racism of the American media. Such nuances are apparently intended to mislead the public into a racist opinion that blacks destroying black communities is a bad thing while giving a wink and a nod to “white on white crime.”
Which leads us to wonder what sort of coverage they would have preferred, and what damage it might do to the English language. What happened in Baltimore was a riot, after all, and what happened in Waco was a shootout. Neither term carries any racial implications that we are aware of, and we note that whenever opposing groups of unsavory black people shoot at one another, as occasionally happens, most news media usually call it a “shootout,” and when white people engage in violent public disorder, as occasionally happens, usually in the wake of some sports team’s championship, the same news media invariably call it a “riot.” If such sensitive sorts as Kohn think it racist to call the people who burned down a senior citizens’ home in Baltimore “thugs” they should take it up with the black mayor of Baltimore and the black president of the United States, both of whom also employed the term, and be reassured that “biker gang” carries a rather thuggish connotation. The coverage of the Baltimore riot lasted for several days, but only because the riot lasted that long, it followed similar rioting in the St. Louis area, and there were threats of more rioting in other cities due to the same lingering controversies of policing in black neighborhoods. The shootout lasted a relatively short time before local police were able to restore order, the nine dead were all willing combatants, the remainder were arrested and duly charged, there is no reason to believe that any other biker gang shootouts are imminent, and the continuing coverage is because the media rather like this kind of story.
Most of the media dislike black-on-black crime stories, which are far more numerous than the police shootings and deadly biker gang brawls and high society murders that always go on the front page, and it usually has to happen on a scale that requires calling in the National Guard to get more than six column inches deep inside the local and state section. This in part because black-on-black crimes are so common, in part because they expose the media to the now-inevitable charges of racial insensitivity, and in part because most of the media is itself so hyper-sensitive about racial issues that they’re willing to ignore a significant problem affecting black people to assuage their consciences. They’d much rather draw attention to a white-on-white shootout down in gun-crazy and Republican-voting Texas, and will happily ignore the fact that it wasn’t exactly a white-on-white shootout. The shootout pitted the “Cossacks” against the “Bandidos,” and as the nomenclature suggests it was more of a whites-and-Hispanics-upon-one-another gunfight, and apparently it had more to with the biker gang subculture’s strange rules regarding the patches worn on motorcycle jackets and the usual drug turf disputes than race, and a lot of the mug shots are ambiguous enough that some of the Bandidos could fit into that “white Hispanic” category that The New York Times created for George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense, so most of the media are happy to give the impression of “white-on-white crime.”
They’re happy to perpetuate the outdated stereotype of the biker gangs as an exclusively white phenomenon, too, even though black and Hispanic and Asian biker gangs have been in business since at least the early ’70s and are now a significant portion of the biker gang problem. There are various ways of reading the statistics about biker gangs, which comprise only 2 percent of the nation’s gang members but cause more trouble and over a vaster area than the more common neighborhood gangs, but none that suggest they aren’t a problem worthy of the attention that the waco shootout has brought. The racialist media critics seem to believe that white America gives a wink and a nod to such violence, but most white people we know have no tolerance for it, and we expect that the citizens of Waco will insist on the most severe punishments the law allows. Despite years of cinematic portrayals of biker gangs, from Marlon Brando’s mumbling “The Wild One” to all those drive-in features to the hilariously politically correct “Sons of Anarchy” on television, “biker gang” is still synonymous with “thugs” to most Americans of all races, and the only thing they have to recommend them is that they don’t mind that no one is making excuses for them.
Biker gangs are a problem, and the riots that threaten to break out over the coming long, hot summer are arguably an even bigger one, and both require some resolution. That will require honest discussions, and separate ones, and any attempt to conflate them is not helpful.

— Bud Norman