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Ask Our Lawyer - June 2008

Peaceable Assembly? Not for bikers in some cities in Illinois

Q. I heard that the Mayor and Police Chief of Grayslake cancelled Ironhorse Roundup Bike Show. Can they do that? I thought we had the right to assemble under the constitution. What does A.B.A.T.E. plan on doing about this?

A. A.B.A.T.E. is gathering the facts and will take proper action. Dan Harper, A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois Legislative Coordinator attended the meeting of the Grayslake Village Council and presented them a Freedom of Information Request asking for all of the information used in deciding to cancel the event. As you know the First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right of the people “peacefully to assemble.” So does the Illinois Constitution, the Indiana Constitution, the Ohio Constitution and even the NorthWest Ordinance which ruled our part of the country before we were states. In April of 2004 I was asked the same question regarding the Belle Claire Fairgrounds in Belleville Illinois. I have reprinted this as a reminder that we need constant vigilance.

Q: I attend a bike swap meet at the Belle Claire Fairgrounds in Belleville about four times a year, and have attended for over a decade. I have heard that the local officials want to shut it down because they fear that certain motorcycle club members may be attending. What can be done?

A: The only weapons against fear are logic and reason, and sometimes even they don’t do the trick. Unfortunately, fear is a powerful emotion, which is why terrorism always seems attractive to some. However, living in fear is not how Americans react, and living in fear is something that we as Americans must constantly strive to overcome.

How did the war against terrorism get mixed up in a column about bike swap meets? It’s really two sides to the same coin. Fear keeps people from living their lives. And remember, fear is not the same as vigilance. Proper vigilance is important – we can do a better job of keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe and protected than anyone else. But that vigilance has to be tempered by experience and common sense, which gets us back to the swap meet.

Will some one-percenters show up? Most likely. Will they cause any trouble? Based on experience, NO! We bikers are a varied lot. One thing that unites us is our love of freedom – the freedom to ride, to live our lives, and to make our own way in the world.

We put that in action by contacting our law-makers and law enforcers and letting them know, politely but forcefully, when they try to trample on our freedoms. Fear of one-percenters is no reason to shut down a swap meet, especially one that has a track record of peaceful commerce. Fear of a motorcycle, or those who ride, is not rational and we need to continue to educate and inform the fearful about who we are and what we do.

It is only fear that is causing problems, and fear is not the American way. I’ve talked about this problem before, when we discussed the definition of “biker” in the dictionary. We continue to monitor the situation and try to have the publishers realize that derogatory definitions of our lifestyles are unfair and offensive. So far, the resistance to change has been strong, but we persevere.

One-percenters do not define us, we define ourselves. Our differences make us strong, our commonalities make us proud.

You asked what can you do? I’d start by handing out copies of this article. Knowing the people of southern Illinois as I do, your support will cause the lawmakers to change their minds.

Follow up note: We should get the mayors of Springfield and Grayslake to compare notes. Springfield has a wonderful swap meet that all can be proud of, and one-percenters are there.

Celebrating the Founding Members of A.B.A.T.E. by Featuring Their Lives
This Month: When “Big Chuck” Williams Speaks...

Charles “Big Chuck” is a good friend of mine. I've known him for over two decades. “Big Chuck” has been a member of A.B.A.T.E. FOR OVER 33 YEARS – number 11. He has held just about every job that you can have in A.B.A.T.E. He loves to tell the story of being signed up in A.B.A.T.E. by Jim Humphries, a bouncer in a bar when the membership application was done on the back of a napkin. Chuck is in the plumbing, sewer, and septic business and has been for a lot of decades. Currently, he is attending seminary part-time and plans on being a minister some day. He is also the best son and brother, and friend that any could have.

He has experienced life to the fullest. During one of his sojourns around the country Big Chuck wound up in Nashville as a wanna-be country music star, Los Angeles as a bouncer, Montana as a cook. He tells the story of him and his girl friend being stranded in Helena Montana without money or jobs. He signed her up for a waitress job, but part of the deal was she had to wash the dishes of her customers. She objected to the dishwashing part so Big Chuck was her new dishwashing co-pilot. Then one day the cook failed to show up. It is what he calls working your way up in life. Guess who the new cook was? Every since I have branded him as a world class chef. Along the way, he has been a carpenter, security guard, dry cleaner, hog farmer, band member, and singer. On that note he reminds me of Mel Tillis in that he sings like Pavarotti, but like Mel, speaks in labored sentences. Some say that he has a speech difficulty; I don't notice anymore.

The point of my telling you all of this is the following: I saw him rise to speak at the MRF Meeting of the Minds in Lancaster, Pennsylvania a few years back. The previous speaker had been rambling on about something that none of us remember, but when "Big Chuck rose to the occasion by giving us his thoughts, we heard every word that he had to say that day.

One final comment. At an A.B.A.T.E. meeting one Saturday, we all rose to pledge allegiance. I stood near “Big Chuck.” He pledged his allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America in perfect prose – near perfect iambic pentameter and never missed a beat. I had never heard "Big Chuck" speak so perfectly before, but he did so on that Saturday. Many of us just go through the motions, but not “Big Chuck.” That was the most memorable Pledge of Allegiance I ever heard.

Bikers Rights Threatened in Florida

The legislature in Florida appears to have recently turned back an assault on biker’s rights due to the perseverance and tenacity of A.B.A.T.E. of Florida. SB-802 was introduced to provide penalties for bikers who ride excessively fast (50+ mph over the posted speed limit) or drive recklessly, with recklessly being defined as weaving in and out of lanes of traffic, riding a wheelie, or performing similar stunts. The original bill carried a provision that a third offense would result in the motorcycle being confiscated. The bill also carried substantial fines and jail time for violations.

A.B.A.T.E. of Florida carefully followed this discriminatory bill, attending meeting and testifying against it. After committee hearings, the confiscation provision was dropped and language added to increase penalties for motorists who injure or kill bikers. Even so, the provisions to add extra penalties for speeding bikers (which wouldn’t apply to other motor vehicles) are clearly discriminatory.

Two things stand out about this battle in Florida. First, it does not appear that some of the sport bike riders are getting involved in the process, relying instead on the A.B.A.T.E. leadership to stand up for them. On one hand, the A.B.A.T.E. leadership, here and elsewhere, does a fantastic job of monitoring all of these legislative issues and protecting our rights. On the other hand, we as members and riders need to take an active interest in these issues and participate in the process, helping out where we can and adding our voices to the debate, and also helping our sport bike riders.

Secondly, I’m very concerned about the use of civil forfeiture as a penalty for traffic violations. Forfeiture was enacted to enable law enforcement to seize the property of drug dealers in order to break up drug rings. It was never intended to be a general penalty in other types of cases. Forfeiture is an extreme response and turns due process on its head. In most forfeiture cases, you are guilty until proven innocent and the burden of proving your innocence is on YOU, at your expense. Even if you are acquitted or found not guilty of any charges, they can still keep your property. Additionally, forfeiture has become a revenue generating activity for many law enforcement agencies. Once the link between arrests and revenue has been made, we’ve started down a slippery slope. If laws of this type go into effect, bikers could be targeted by law enforcement, profiled, and falsely accused even if you ride safe and sane, and never do any of these stunts.

We need to stay motivated, stay involved, and stay connected. Only together can we protect our rights and freedoms.

English Wins!

Q. I see that the U.S. Senate failed to pass the bill to make English our official language. Why can't Congress pass a law making English our official language?

A. As you may know, bills have been introduced to do just that. All have failed to pass. Interestingly, Illinois and Indiana have passed state laws making English its official language. Your question centers on a fear in this country that English is losing ground here and around the world. There are those who fear that Chinese will dominate the internet or that this country will become bilingual like Canada is – kinda-sorta.

With that in mind, I did some research. Here is what I found. The fastest Chinese-language typist in the world can only muster about 10 words per minute. They use symbols so the keyboard has to be the width of two ping pong tables and their language can not be alphabetized. Try Googling with that. The Japanese fair little better. They have the same symbol limitation, but their keyboard is only the width of one ping pong table. Score one for English.

Get this: one the most recognized faces in China is a British lady that teaches English to an estimated 60 million Chinese on a television learning channel. While I am sure there are many, I do not know a single American that is learning Chinese, certainly not 60 million of us. As to the French, they have a person whose job is to make sure that French stays French. It is working. Fewer students are taking French in this country than ever. I took four years of it in college. And even if you do, here is what you get: the French have only one word for hide and skin. Try going home tonight and telling your significant other that she has lovely hide.

It is estimated that less than half of Americans are taking French and German today than there were in my generation. Why? It is not needed anymore. Almost everyone speaks English, and more of the world is learning every day. It is truly the language of the world. Guess what language is used by air traffic controllers in all countries [even though the French controllers gripe about it and favor French speaking pilots]?

Unlike French, English has no one to guard the entry of new words into our language. For example, it is estimated that English has pirated as least ten thousand Spanish words and made them English. The Rand Corporation did a study a few years back about our Spanish residents in this country. In the first generation, their children spoke English and Spanish. In the next generation only half were bilingual, the rest spoke only English. At least the same can be said for the Vietnamese and other southeast Asians coming to and thriving in this country. Whether the world likes it or not, English has become the language of the world. While language differences are interesting, it is the perfection of communication that is occurring. I say let us relax and enjoy our cultural and language differences while they last. Mark it down: English has won the war of language competition.


Ride Safe and Free,

Rod Taylor

A.B.A.T.E. Legal Services

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: Ask Our Lawyer, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206_2850, or email rodtaylor@abatelegal.com. © 2005, A.B.A.T.E. Legal Services