The HOGs came to town, but you did not have to hide your daughters, place razor wire on your white picket fence or squirrel away in your basement. We certainly learned our lessons during the National Bikers Roundup.
By the time you read this, the Harley Owners Group will be gone, the Executive Center will be cleaned and most of you will be asking, “What rally?” This is a good thing.
As journalists, friends think we know everything about every news story ever written. Or not yet written. So, when my own circle started to ask about the HOG rally in our fair city before the close of last week's roundup, I was not too surprised.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Jill Wieneke, a public information officer with the Columbia Police Department, to talk about the differences between the two events and why the citizens of this fine city had not heard a whole lot about a bunch of Harley riders coming to town.
Most importantly, the police, Boone County Sheriff's Department, Columbia Fire Department, the Missouri Highway Patrol and FBI had cooperated to find out who was coming and any potential problems that may come with them. You know, the problems that do not follow the average middle-class, white-collar citizen who rides a Harley on weekends.
In the world of motorcycle clubs, very few resort to extreme violence, drug dealing, prostitution and other illegal activities. The diamond shaped “1%” patch displayed by outlaw bikers is, in part, a reminder that these types of folks represent a very small percentage of all motorcycle riders.
The National Bikers Roundup had an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 participants. The group also had tight security of its own that coordinated with the sheriff and police. Most worried more about the traffic interruptions than the bikers getting out-of-hand. In reality, the bigger worry was where to put the motor homes of the participants and how emergency equipment could get in and out if needed.
Wieneke said that the police planned the security for the Roundup as they plan for any MU football game - with extra patrol, traffic and beat cops. She also said that the HOG rally was expecting fewer than 1,000 bikers so security and traffic were not major issues.
Then there is the issue of “The e-mail.”
As some of you read in Mike Martin’s Columbia Heart Beat or my InkandVoice.com columns, a Columbia Police Department detective, on his or her own time, sent an e-mail to friends, who sent it to friends and eventually it made its way to an MU listserv.
There were allegations that the National Biker Roundup represented the worst of the worst of motorcycle clubs. The e-mail insinuated that Columbia would experience an untold number of motorcycle and car thefts, raging gang fights, pillaging … OK, it was not that bad, but the e-mail caused much ado about nothing among our more genteel citizens. Martin’s columns, four in total, concerning this issue can be found here.
Both rallies featured a number of Christian evangelical clubs whose missions are only to preach "The Word." The Central Missouri Food Bank received a handsome donation from the National Biker Roundup. Later this year, Toys for Tots motorcycle club riders will explode throughout the country to bring a modicum of happiness to children during the winter holidays. Oh, what an evil web can be spun by those who use the Internet and news media to deceive.
The alleged offending detective is under investigation by the CPD’s Internal Affairs Unit. The detective’s name and formal charges will not be released until the investigation is complete.
One thing is quite clear, though, the riders participating in both events had nothing but praise for the city of Columbia and Boone County. No, there were no reports of anyone denied service or “gouged” by merchants. Every visitor was served with smiles, and riders came away with an extremely positive experience in the middle of Middle America. Favorite hangout, judging by the number of motorcycles in the parking lot – Cracker Barrel.
Mike Martin was right about one thing, the media made a mountain out of a molehill. Columbia residents know better and we, like the HOG and National Biker Roundup groups, proved that things are not as bad as some may advertise.
Ah, the charm of critical thinking.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.