A Few Thoughts on the Waco Biker Shootout
So this Waco thing has caught my interest, mostly because of all the dumb things being said about it. I’m no expert and have no direct connection to the Waco Biker shootout, nor do I have access to anything more than media reports. However, based on my experience as a patrolman, assistant active shooter instructor and soldier I’ve made a few observations and educated guesses about what happened.
1) I predict we’ll soon learn most or all of the dead bikers were shot by police officers
I base this on a couple things, but the biggest one is a comment the Waco PD spokesman included in the official statement: “Our officers treated it as an active shooter scene.” An active shooter’s goal is to kill as many people as possible rather than steal money, take hostages or escape. A police officer who encounters an active shooter has one mission: stop the killing. The best way to stop that killing is by quickly engaging the active shooter with accurate gunfire. The Waco shooting took place in a crowded restaurant within a crowded shopping center with several businesses and restaurants full of innocent civilians. Police officers outside Twin Peaks could be expected to treat bikers firing shots in the parking lot as active shooters.
The affiliations of the bikers would obviously play a part in how the officers perceived the threat they presented. At least some of the bikers involved in the Waco shootout were “1%ers” or “outlaw bikers”. That’s what they call themselves, not just what police call them. Many wear 1% patches on their vests, in reference to the “99% of motorcycle riders are law-abiding citizens” comment made after the first riotous motorcycle rally in 1947; a 1% patch means they’re not law abiders. It’s a public proclamation of their dedication to a criminal lifestyle.
Outlaw biker gangs have a long history of violence, and more importantly, are known to engage in gang warfare around uninvolved civilians. In 2002, Hell’s Angels and Mongols had a gunfight inside a Laughlin casino that killed three bikers and wounded many more. Hell’s Angels and Vagos were involved in a shootout inside a Nevada casino in 2011 that left one biker dead and two wounded. In November 2013 a Bandido allegedly stabbed two Cossack bike gang members in Abilene. Waco’s shooting is thought to be directly related to that incident.
The Waco shooting was reportedly sparked by a Cossack gang member wearing a Texas patch on his vest. This deserves a little more attention. Bandidos are a big Texas motorcycle gang, Cossacks are also Texan but aren’t as big as the Bandidos. The three patches worn by Bandidos are a “Bandidos” banner, the gang logo, and a Texas banner. The Bandidos banned the Cossacks from wearing a Texas banner (because it meant Cossacks were trying to take over Bandido territory), but apparently Cossacks dared to not follow this edict. So Bandidos just had to attack the Cossacks. Because honor and respect. Or something.
The fight escalated to clubs and knives, then spilled into the parking lot and escalated to gunfire. No police are reported to have been inside the restaurant, although of course conspiracy theorists are already suggesting undercover officers were inside acting as “agitators” (hint: it would be pretty damn stupid for cops to instigate a fight that would put them in the impact area of other cops’ rifle fire). But when the fight got outside, twenty-two cops in marked units already in the parking lot took action.
The officers would likely have seen dozens or hundreds of bikers flooding out of the restaurant swinging, stabbing and shooting. They would have seen the fight before receiving a call, because the incident unfolded too quickly for a caller to dial 911, explain the situation to a dispatcher, then have the information relayed by radio or computer. The officers probably took cover behind vehicles and searched for sources of gunfire. When they saw an armed suspect, they probably wouldn’t have been able to discern his target because of their distance and the general chaos. The officers would consider the shooters’ gang affiliation, consider the danger to uninvolved citizens, and make the decision whether or not to engage.
As of this writing, initial reports suggest at least four of the nine biker fatalities were killed by police. I’m willing to bet police killed more or even all of them. I’m already seeing online accusations that police fired indiscriminately into the crowd; I doubt that was the case (especially considering how many uninvolved civilians were present) and I expect to learn that the bikers killed by police were hit from a distance with one or two well-aimed rifle rounds.
A reasonable question has been raised: in the chaos, is it possible that a biker with a Concealed Handgun License legally drew his weapon to defend himself against a threat, legally shot at a criminal who was attacking him, and was then shot by a police officer who didn’t know the CHL holder was engaged in justifiable self-defense? The answer is, “of course it’s possible.” Hell, it may even be likely. If we find out that happened at least once, does that mean the officers committed murder and deserve to be prosecuted?
No. The law doesn’t require perfection from anyone, whether they’re a cop or private citizen. People just have to be reasonable.
Contrary to popular myth, cops don’t get a free pass for killing people and private citizens aren’t immediately charged with murder if they kill someone in self-defense even if they were wrong. In one Texas incident, late one night a woman killed a man she thought was kicking her door in; the man turned out to be her drunken firefighter neighbor who went to the wrong house after coming home from a bar. The woman wasn’t arrested or charged because police and the grand jury correctly decided the woman acted reasonably. She was home alone, it was late at night, someone tried to force open her door, she got a weapon and warned the person to leave, he kept trying to get in, so she fired through the door and killed him. She thought her life was in danger and even though she was objectively wrong, her perception was still reasonable. (http://abc13.com/archive/9470222/)
So if a police officer sees a person who appears to be a member of a biker gang shooting at an unknown person or people while engaged in a massive fight with other gang members, while numerous innocent civilians are present, is it reasonable for the officer to decide the biker is a threat and shoot him? I say yes. Biker gangs are gangs, no different than bloods or crips except in their mode of transportation. If a fight between bloods and crips breaks out at a movie theater and they start shooting at each other inside the theater while surrounded by innocent civilians, I can understand if a police officer sees any gang member firing a weapon as a threat to innocent people. Others will disagree. Whatever our personal opinions are, ultimately the law only requires that officers and armed citizens act reasonably, not that they’re perfect or even right.
And if we do learn all the dead were killed by cops, that doesn’t equal “This whole thing was the cops’ fault!” (as some are already claiming). It could mean officers used too much force in response to a minor fight. But it could also mean officers did exactly what they’re trained and expected to do: use appropriate force against criminals they reasonably judged to be an imminent threat to the public. It’s even possible some officers were totally justified in shooting and others weren’t. Time and evidence will tell.
2) We’ll soon learn that most of the wounded bikers were wounded by other bikers, not cops.
According to latest reports, 318 weapons were recovered from the Twin Peaks shooting scene. The weapons ranged from chains to an AK-47. I haven’t heard how many were pistols. Despite what one might see on Game of Thrones, chains, clubs and knives are dangerous but are actually hard to kill people with (when you stab someone in the stomach or cut their throat, shockingly enough they don’t immediately drop dead). Pistols, of course, can easily kill. However, as we see in almost every officer-involved shooting, under stress most people’s accuracy goes to crap. Shooters who hit ten out of ten bullseyes on a static range at ten yards hit one out of ten or worse on an entire human target in an actual gunfight. This is because in real gunfights the target is usually moving, at an unknown range, partially concealed behind cover or other people, and shooting back.
So I expect most of the bikers in the hospital were beaten, stabbed, or shot with pistols by other bikers who were distracted by hundreds of possible threats around them. In the melee, their effectiveness with any weapon would likely have been compromised. The police, however, weren’t in the middle of the fight, weren’t facing threats from 360 degrees and didn’t have nearly as many factors degrading their effectiveness.
So less serious injuries were inflicted by bikers, more serious by cops. Just my guess.
3) Most of the charges will be dropped
As far as I know, most of the bikers were charged with criminal conspiracy because they belonged to biker gangs. Absent evidence that each of them committed a specific crime, I don’t think that’s enough to make a charge stick. If they were convicted felons in possession of guns, they’re toast. If an officer can testify that specific bikers committed specific crimes, they’re toast. The bikers who were caught armed and coming from out of town to back up their gang after the fight are toast. But Joe Regular Guy who just bought a Harley in an over-forty fit and went to the outlaw biker gathering because he thinks Sons of Anarchy is cool will probably make it out without a conviction.
4) Two very different groups will blame the police for the shooting even though their arguments make no sense
The “hands up don’t shoot” crowd is already spreading really stupid memes like this:
These memes prove – PROVE! – that cops treat black people worse than whites.
I won’t waste much time on this, because it’s so friggin’ stupid, but I can offer this rebuttal: Hey dumbasses, cops shot a bunch of white bikers and may have killed nine of them. But cops didn’t shoot any rioters in Ferguson or Baltimore, even though rioters shot at cops in Ferguson. More white bikers were arrested in one afternoon in Waco than blacks were arrested in two days of rioting in Ferguson and a day of rioting in Baltimore. Judges put 1 million dollar bail on the bikers. Cops killing whites and throwing them in jail doesn’t prove that cops treat white people better than blacks. So shut up.
The second group accusing cops of murder is the “cops are evil jack-booted thugs” crowd. That crowd is sharing an article from a site called “aging rebel” about the “Waco Police Massacre”. According to Mr. Rebel, “The shove in the bathroom became a scuffle in the restaurant. When about 30 Bandidos, Cossacks, Scimitars and other bikers spilled into the parking between the Twin peaks and the Don Carlos Mexican restaurant next door, the police were waiting for them. The scuffle became a knife fight and several men were stabbed. When one of the combatants produced a gun the Swat team opened fire with automatic weapons. Multiple sources have told The Aging Rebel that all of the dead were killed by police.”
Right now, before any autopsy results are released, I don’t see how the hell anyone can possibly claim with certainty that all the dead were killed by police. I highly doubt any one person could have seen every single shooting and knows exactly who fired. But let’s set aside logic a moment. Assuming these multiple (anonymous) sources are telling the truth, well, their statement partially matches what police have said: a fistfight turned into a gang fight with knives and clubs which then turned into a shooting in the parking lot.
I guess that proves the police are evil, tyrannical, and at fault for the Waco shootout. I mean, this is America! You’re telling me armed bikers can’t even have a massive gang fight around hundreds of civilians without getting shot by cops? What happened to freedom?
You know who else tyrannically oppressed biker gangs? Hitler, that’s who!
5) Video and witness statements are going to come out, and will put some of the anti-cop claims to rest
I doubt any of the bikers involved in the fight pulled out cell phones and started videotaping, but plenty of uninvolved civilians did. I’ve seen brief snippets of video on TV, not full videos. But they’re out there, and eventually we’ll see them. If bikers had videos of cops spraying gunfire indiscriminately into the crowd we probably would have seen it already; any biker who had it and wasn’t arrested would have immediately put it on the internet to help his biker buddies out, and if the biker was detained or arrested he probably still would have had time to upload it or send it to a friend before he was cuffed and transported (see the picture above, where a detained biker was still able to use his phone). So although we’ll hear numerous lurid tales of out-of-control cops hell bent on massacring innocent bikers with full-auto fire, we won’t see evidence of it. But we will see video of cops taking cover behind cars and firing deliberate, aimed shots. That’s just my guess.
My gut feeling is that the incident unfolded exactly how we’ve heard it did: outlaw bikers were spoiling for a fight and started one over something stupid. The fight went lethal real quick. Cops who were there in case the outlaw bikers acted like outlaw bikers saw the fight and heard shooting. The cops engaged and killed any biker they thought was a threat to innocent civilians. The cops will be cleared of any wrongdoing because their actions were reasonable, most of the 170 bikers arrested will have charges dropped.
And the outlaw biker gangs involved will find somewhere else for their next fight.
Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at email@example.com or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).
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