Some 500 bikers rallied in front of a Waco courthouse on Sunday to protest the detention of 170 fellow bikers following a gang-related shootout in May. Above, a composite of mugshots of individuals arrested as part of a crackdown on biker gangs in Waco. (Photos courtesy McLennan Sheriff’s Department)
Hundreds of demonstrators, mostly bikers, gathered outside a courthouse in Waco, Texas, on Sunday to protest against the arrests of hundreds of people following a deadly shootout last month that killed nine people and injured more than a dozen others.
At the “First Amendment and Redress Rally,” some waved American and Confederate flags while others displayed signs that read “We Are Not Criminals” and “Biker Lives Matter,” The Guardian reported. Others who were not bikers came armed with rifles, something that is legal in Texas.
Police arrested 177 individuals — again, mostly bikers — following a deadly shootout between rival gangs outside the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco on May 17. Law enforcement had been at the restaurant after receiving intelligence that the gangs were going to meet earlier in the day.
Officers initially stood watch when the fight broke out, taking action only when gang members began shooting at each other. In total, nine bikers were killed and 17 others injured. Police have not commented on how many of those bikers were killed by fellow gang members and how many were shot by responding officers.
The Twin Peaks restaurant had been uncooperative with law enforcement leading up to the incident, officials said. Police later recovered more than 300 weapons from inside the restaurant. The Waco location of the Texas-based chain was eventually closed after corporate managers said Twin Peaks would be withdrawing its franchise license.
Of the original 177 arrested, 102 remained in police custody, a law enforcement official told The Guardian. Most of the men had their bails set at more than $1 million following charges that ranged from organized crime to capital murder. Capital murder charges can come with a death sentence in Texas.
Joe Miller, a 64-year-old biker who was near the Twin Peaks restaurant the day of the shootout, told The Guardian that he came to the rally to protest what he considered to be an overreaction by police.
“Arrest them, take their bikes?” Miller questioned. “The bike is their love. They need to get their due process a bit quicker.”
The shootout happened between two feuding biker gangs: The Bandidos and the Cossacks. Both have Texas origins dating back to the late 1960s, with the Bandidos formed first.
“Texas is their state,” Terry Katz, the vice president of a biker investigator group, told The New York Times last month. “They are the big dogs of Texas.”
The Cossacks formed a few years later and refused to “bow down” to the Bandidos, sparking a rivalry, Katz said.
Following the shootout last month, both sides reportedly called for reinforcement from other states, according to law enforcement bulletins that circulated within days. Police were prepared for the possibility that the gangs would retaliate against each other in response to the shooting.
Instead, several rallies have been held in the weeks after, mainly to protest the treatment of the dozens of bikers who remain in jail unable to afford the high bail set by the judges overseeing their cases.
“They say we’re the land of the free,” Mark Martinez, a New Mexico biker who travelled to Waco to participate in the Sunday rally, told The Guardian. “I’m not just here because I ride a motorcycle. I’m here for the people.”