To the hundreds of riders who took over Miami-Dade County streets on dirt bikes and ATVs, their holiday ride was an act of defiance, a peaceful but rowdy protest honoring the untimely and still unsolved death of a biker last year in Philadelphia.
Their motto: Bikes up, guns down.
To the drivers stuck in traffic jams as two- and three-wheeled vehicles whizzed past, it was a dangerous decision that blocked streets, scared passersby and made Monday evening’s rush hour more horrendous than usual.
On this, however, most agree: The policy that prohibited police officers from chasing the wheelie-popping bikers prevented injury and saved lives.
The bikers “did it for a good cause,” Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said Tuesday. “However, I think they did it the wrong way.” She said being passed in a car by speeding motorcycles “can be a very scary experience.”
When Monday’s wild ride ended, roughly three hours after it began in the early evening hours, only three people had been arrested and only one person was slightly injured after crashing on Florida’s Turnpike, Florida Highway Patrol trooper Joe Sanchez said.
Police admitted that Monday’s drama, which played out on a nationwide stage, initially caught them flat-footed. Yet even as officers took up positions, there wasn’t much they could do about the hundreds of bikes roaring up and down Interstate 95, speeding across U.S. 441, looping up and down Northwest Seventh Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard.
With the freedom, the bikers sometimes rode on the wrong side of the street, over sidewalks, through medians. Most of them were speeding, and many were on bikes banned on roadways.
Stranded motorists gawked while police mostly stood by trying to keep the public safe.
Why no police chase?
Miami and Miami-Dade police have had policies for years that prohibit the pursuit of speeding vehicles unless officers believe a suspect is a known felon who is a danger to the public.
“All other pursuits are prohibited,” according to the Miami-Dade policy. Miami and FHP have similar approaches.
“At the end of the day, the safety of the community comes first,” said Miami-Dade Police Det. Robin Pinkard. “To pursue them wasn’t worth it. They had a good message. They just went about it the wrong way. Traffic laws are laws for a reason.”
Miami Police Detective Freddie Burden said her department has no interest in chasing someone through city streets at a high speed who hasn’t committed a violent crime.
“If I want to pull you over because you ran a red light, I’m not going to risk killing my neighbor or someone going to church,” she said.
The riders who descended on Miami on Monday came from as far away as Baltimore and Philadelphia. They planned the event using Facebook and other social-media sites.
A similar event played out in October in Philadelphia after the shooting death of Kyrell Tyler, a dirt bike legend whom friends called “Dirt Bike Rell.” Police shut down Center City’s Westminster Street that day to give the riders space. Many of the same bikers came to Miami over the holiday weekend.
“He was the king in Philly, king of Philly dirt bikes. Everybody loved him. He’d love this right now,” Tyler’s friend Steven Fulton told a Philadelphia news station.
Milo Alexander, who drove to Miami from Atlanta, said the peaceful parade of bikes and ATVs was also in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “These bikes bring a bond,” he told the Miami Herald. “It’s something that brings us all together. It doesn’t matter who you are.”
One of the starting points for Monday’s ride was an alley behind the now-shuttered Junior’s Auto Sales on Northwest Seventh Avenue and 73rd Street. A four-minute video on Facebook posted by Joey Lopez of Miami shows hundreds of bikers on ATVs , motorcycles, scooters, buggies and dirt bikes revving their engines and beginning their journey.
The narrow street was flooded with bystanders. As the long stream of vehicles passed through the street, some riders popped wheelies while others carefully navigated through waves of traffic. The large group was eventually tailed by a caravan of cars, with some passengers poking through open sunroofs to take video of the spectacle.
Reactions to the protest were mixed, with some condemning the riders’ actions and calling the behavior dangerous and reckless and others saluting the bikers’ peaceful message.
“I’d rather hear about ATVs than AK-47s #BikesUpGunsDown,” Facebook user Phylecia ProudMommy wrote. And this from Twitter user MADAME COLDEST: “I love my city #BikesUpGunsDown !!! This may have been the best MLK day in a while with no violence.”
Amy Bellino of Miami Beach took to Facebook to offer a different perspective.
“Basically, the group wanted to show nonviolent unity in honor of MLK Day, using the hashtag #BikesUpGunsDown. I think we can all agree that the Guns Down part is admirable, but I don’t see how riding recklessly without helmets on non-street-legal bikes and four-wheelers, performing dangerous tricks at high speeds and disobeying the majority of traffic rules is productive or conducive to their cause,” she said.
Hollywood’s Joey Foster played to the middle: “Fellas, be safe on your bikes and aware that others are driving alongside of you.”