Martin Luther King Jr. Day is here. In South Florida, the holiday means there will be dozens of motor bikers and ATV riders weaving through South Florida traffic at incredibly high speeds.
The annual #BikesUpGunsDown celebration, which began several years ago in response to the untimely death of a Philadelphia biker, is considered a nuisance by many. But at its core, it really is just a group of black men and other people of color coming together to have fun and spread a positive nonviolent message, #blackboyjoy.
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The tricks they do are impressive: I’ve seen them pop wheelies and ride on both the hind and front wheels of their bikes for stretches of time that seem physically impossible. Their stunts are also really dangerous – and that’s even before you factor in routes that take them on the unpredictable highways and interstates of South Florida. Last year three people were killed.
Law enforcement officers with multiple agencies have said they will be monitoring the unofficial festivities and plan to penalize any lawbreakers.
“Let it be known, law enforcement will be out there to ensure that they will be cited, arrested and their bikes will be seized,” Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Joe Sanchez told the Miami Herald.
And that makes sense. A lack of organization among the activities of the #BikesUpGunsDown crew creates a danger to themselves and the safety of motorists on the streets. If South Florida’s drivers cannot prepare for these bikers, avoiding disaster becomes difficult. And performing stunts and riding off-road vehicles on the streets and highways is decidedly illegal.
Many people take issue with the manner in which the bikers spread their message. When people are dying and crimes are being committed, how can #BikesUpGunsDown expect support?
To that point, I raise the irony of complaints of black folks peacefully – albeit loudly – assembling ahead of a holiday reserved to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel presented a sanitized version of Dr. King in remarks about the #BikesUpGunsDown event.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great orator, a great leader. His legacy during the holiday should be remembered with great respect,” Israel said. “But there is a zero tolerance policy for this illegal activity. The most important thing we can do is keep Broward County a safe place.”
But perhaps Scott forgets that King too was the subject of great contempt. Many reverent Americans forget that King went to jail and was villainized for the way he did things, weaving his way dangerously through the conscience of the United States.
And that’s not to compare #BikesUpGunsDown to the freedom-fighting legacy of Dr. King. It’s just to point out an often ignored nuance that proves movements with genuine motivations can be misrepresented.
No, #BikesUpGunsDown isn’t completely tidy. While it has a positive message on community gun violence, it also has its shortcomings and could benefit greatly from leadership and a more organized effort.
It’s not fair for motorists’ lives to endangered for the sake of someone else’s fun. But the community also has no right to dictate how a group prefers to celebrate a holiday. We can, however, seek a happy medium. #BikesUpGunsDown should step up to make needed adjustments.
But where is law enforcement’s initiative to promote the riders’ right to have fun in a safe and welcoming environment? Where is local leaders’ foresight to treat this event, which attracts out-of-state visitors, as an oportunity to encourage local tourism?
If you think both are absent, consider the racial undertones. How comfortable is Miami with black people having fun on their own terms? It seems like most people are OK with black people doing as they wish as long as it’s contained within Miami’s predominantly black neighborhoods. But that’s it.
Take Urban Beach Weekend. Miami Beach is so bent on curbing black people from visiting during that weekend, that its commissioners inappropriately placed a family fun event smack dab in the middle of Ocean Drive, a street notoriously known for its liquor sales and raunchiness. Miami legend and former rapper Luther Campbell took issue with Miami Beach’s response then and sees the importance of working with #BikesUpGunsDown now.
“I think it’s a great intention, anything to get the guns off the streets,” Campbell told the Miami Herald. “But there are always going to be some knuckleheads that are going to make it bad for everyone else. You need to take something like that, that may have some issues and make it a good event.”
The reality is, on any given weekend, you can find black men riding motorbikes and ATVs on the streets. You just have to know where to look.
But apparently having fun is especially criminal on Martin Luther King Day.