HOUSTON— After the shooting at a motorcycle clubs gathering in the southwestern U.S. city of Waco, Texas last month that left nine people dead and 18 wounded, law enforcement officials described the clubs as criminal gangs. But questions remain about what transpired in Waco, especially in regard to actions taken by police on the scene. Motorcyclists reject broad portrayals of their clubs as criminal organizations.
A few hundred members of motorcycle clubs from the Houston region gather at the Hawg Stop restaurant and bar.
Although Houston police had said they would monitor the situation closely, there is no sign of police anywhere near the site and all is peaceful.
This is the norm for such meetings, according to attorney Joey Lester.
“We have had eight or nine thousand of them over the last 30 years; we have never had any problems, even little problems, at any of these meetings. That thing in Waco was an aberration," said Lester.
Lester, who represents biker clubs on a national scale, says a thorough investigation is needed, but he says it appears police over-reacted when they arrested 170 people on the scene for criminal conspiracy.
“You are supposed to have evidence against each person in order to bring a charge like that against them, so what they did, what law enforcement did there was a travesty of justice in my opinion," he said.
Some legal experts say police were justified in making mass arrests, given the chaotic situation at the time, and many of those arrested have now been released on bond. Police spokesmen say officers fired 12 shots during the incident, but they have not yet produced a detailed account.
At the meeting in Houston and a large rally held in Austin over the weekend, there was no evidence of animosity between rival clubs.
Tracy White of the FAM club says biker clubs are open and diverse.
“We don’t go by your race, we don’t go by your age; none of that matters. Everything is transparent; love is love," said White.
The meetings follow strict rules and are carried out in orderly fashion.
Prayer is also on the agenda, sometimes led by preachers like Reverend Rocky Summerfield.
“Some of these guys don’t feel comfortable with a church setting, so this is our mission field," said Summerfield.
Wild Dillos club member “Slick” works at a bank during the week, dressed more conventionally.
“Wearing a coat and tie and on the weekends I like to put my jeans on and my jacket and vest and ride my Harley," said "Slick".
“There’s lawyers and doctors and bankers and blue collar workers, just a wide variety of people and all come together under the banner of motorcycle enthusiasts.”
Some of the bikers are members of clubs with a rough reputation, like the Bandidos, but almost everyone dresses in black leather and might look menacing to an outsider.
Yet most members are law-abiding, patriotic citizens and tax payers, according to Reverend Summerfield.
“It is no different than a ladies tennis club. They have an interest in playing tennis and whatever and we just have a big interest and camaraderie of riding motorcycles," he said.
Motorcycles, friendship and a good dose of outlaw spirit are what bikers say bind them together in clubs.