On Monday, an estimated 200 or so motorcycle, ATV and dirt bike riders surprised their fellow drivers — and, apparently, law enforcement officers — in Broward and Miami-Dade counties as they rode through city streets in packs. In Broward, riders were reportedly spotted in Davie, Pompano Beach, Hallandale and Fort Lauderdale, as well as up and down I-95. In some instances, the riders drove toward opposing traffic. I myself almost hit a biker accidentally driving down Biscayne Boulevard in Miami on Monday, and a minor crash in Fort Lauderdale reportedly sent one biker to the hospital.
Turned out the riders were part of an event called "Bikes Up, Guns Down" that was supposed to raise awareness about gun violence in South Florida on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — though it was obviously dangerous, and perhaps not exactly the type of civil disobedience the doctor planned during his too-short time on Earth. In Miami-Dade, police towed 59 vehicles and made 28 arrests, including the arrest of one person who was wanted for murder and another for grand theft. They also confiscated five firearms, including a machine gun.
The ride has been criticized for endangering both civilians and participants. Police policies generally prohibit cops from pursuing vehicles in a chase unless a felony has been committed. So, the bikers essentially had free reign over South Florida's streets. Law enforcement leaders said they purposely left the the riders alone, since enacting sudden, unadvertised roadblocks or engaging in high-speed pursuits could have been dangerous for the majority of other drivers on the roads.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel told the Sun-Sentinel, "For us to take a non-aggressive posture, to use discretion and restraint, I'm so proud of our leaders and deputies for doing that, especially up in Pompano [Beach] where we had most of the traffic into central Broward." He suggested his agency knew of the event but thought it was "a Dade County event. Our intelligence people had no information that anyone was coming to Broward County."
Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler said the situation was "unacceptable" and called for better planning next year.
Reaction to the protest online has been vitriolic and tinged with racism. The riders have been called "thugs," and accused of tarnishing King's own legacy.
Though this is an unscientific example, here are some Tweets and Facebook comments from Monday:
A person named Shannon Sponge Rose wrote in Facebook: "The news is calling this mess organized. I'm sorry, but this was an unorganized chaotic mess. This put many lives in danger with the doing, wheelies, burnouts, kicking cars and taunting other drivers. At some points were even weaving in and out of traffic on the wrong side of the road."
An Yvette Torres wrote, "I CONDEMN the Miami Police Department for not taking a stronger approach and stop this insanity. Driving against traffic, disrupting a highway at 70 mph, crossing red lights and throwing their bikes and ATV's into cars. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE. If you live in Miami Dade or Broward PLEASE SHARE. We have to stop this."
Bob Markey II said, "Here we go again. Thugs drive like maniacs in non-street legal motorcycles and for at least the second year, police act like they knew nothing about it and do nothing to stop it. Have the sheriff's offices, police departments and Highway Patrol ever heard of Social Media, where these stunts are planned Police say it would be too dangerous to chase the thugs. But just how dangerous is it to allow them to run amok with impunity? Dr. Martin Luther King must be so pleased in Heaven, as his supposed followers create chaos here every year."
Even on the liberal Occupy Miami page, a Beaglez Freeman wrote, "Y'all have to be the biggest idiots on earth. If one of you ends up under my car, I might have to pis on your corpse. im glad I keep my gun loaded and ready because these punks only deserve one thing, a dirt nap. Stupid ignorant childern. [sic]"
There were, of course, some positive comments, mostly from young people. But calling nonviolent demonstrators "thugs" and "criminals," — and saying they ought to be run over — should be unacceptable, anywhere.
LOCAL ALERT: If you are driving in the Broward area or know someone who is, please let them know that there are hundreds...
Ok so my rant continues !!!! Really miami lets ride our dirt bikes on the street, break every law to man kind, and dont give a shit, the cops should run them over, arrest them, and drag there ass to jail
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.