We're an easy target

According to criminologists, not all motorcycle clubs should be dealt with equally harshly

Scene from Sons of Anarchy, the American drama television series about an outlaw motorcycle club.

Vincent Bongers

Is the Ministry of Justice’s zero-tolerance policy effective against motorcycle gangs? "You can’t treat all men in leather jackets the same way".

"I have a tattoo of the Veterans’ full colors on my back. I’ve had a memorial wreath tattooed over it with the date I joined the club and the date I left." Joseph Raaijmakers (54) left the Veterans Motor Club in 2015. "My son and I went to the chapter meeting. We both agreed: ‘This is going too far - we’re leaving.’

"You have to return anything with the Veterans MC insignia on it: shirts, T-shirts, sweaters and trousers. It was bad and it still hurts. I still really love that club. It’s not like a bowling club, it’s a lifestyle, isn’t it? It’s the sense of community. Being part of the scene. It occupied my every living moment."

Last week, a conference on Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs) was held in Leiden. The description refers to the self-designated 1% MCs (see the glossary), motorcycle gangs like the Hells Angels, Bandidos and No Surrender. In 2012, the government introduced a policy specifically for dealing with such clubs. Only last week, the police raided MC Satudarah, arresting three of its committee members. The Public Prosecution Service wants the courts to ban the motorcycle gang, though it had not succeeded with the Hells Angels previously. Last week, the Court of Utrecht also considered a ban on the Bandidos.

Leiden Professor of Criminology Arjan Blokland is studying crime among members of OMGs. "In 2014, we did a random check of people we knew were members of an Outlaw Motorcycle club. The police supplied the data and we were asked to gather information about these men – all the members were male. We checked whether they had a criminal record: 82 per cent had one; a large percentage had been convicted of a drugs-related crime."

Blokland presented an update of his research at the symposium. The new random check covers more than twice as many people and concludes that up to 85% of members of a motorcycle gang have a criminal record.

"In 2017, we compared those figures to a random check done among average Dutch men who ride motorbikes but are not members of an MC: of that group, thirty per cent have a criminal record. If you compare the groups, it’s thirty against eighty per cent. The question is, how representative are the random checks?

"We don’t know exactly how many people are members of a motorcycle club. We don’t know whether our random check produces a bias either. The men might be on police records because they are suspected of committing criminal acts, but they might be there for other reasons."

Raaijmakers claims the police are misrepresenting the figures from the study. "The researchers looked at members or associates of motorcycle gangs who were known to the police. Known to the police is almost synonymous with ‘having a criminal record’. They’re lying about the numbers."

No concessions

Veterans is an unusual MC: the members work, or have worked, for the Ministry of Defence. Raaijmakers served in Lebanon in 1982-83 as a member of the Dutch force supporting the UN mission.

"You don’t become a Member of an MC, you are already one", he explains. "I immediately felt at home at the Veterans’ club house. My son served in Afghanistan and when he got back, he said: ‘I’m joining the Veterans now’. So, I joined too."

Raaijmakers doesn’t not think the MCs are being dealt with fairly and he soon began promoting the Veterans interests, representing them in court and in the media, especially when the members were increasingly often banned from wearing their colors at events. The colors were banned even when the MC was invited to organise a motorbike procession as part of the Ministry of Defence’s Veterans’ Day in The Hague. When the Veterans went to court about the ban, it was revealed that the Mayor had made the banning of colors a condition. "We still wore our colors, despite the ban. I’m not taking them off. You don’t make any concessions about who you are." More and more events of which the police say, "no notable incidents occurred" suddenly need permits, which the municipalities then refuse to issue.

"When I was not admitted to the Harley Day in 2015 because I wore colours, I was arrested." The case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. "I actually filed an objection against that. Hey! We have all the evidence we need. It was totally ignored."

Outlawed status

"A comprehensive policy against the MCs is risky", Blokland says. "The number of convicted Members varies quite a bit between gangs, from thirty to almost a hundred per cent. You can’t treat all men in leather jackets who call themselves a motorcycle gang the same way. It’s not really efficient either, for that matter."

Erasmus University Rotterdam lecturer in criminology Robby Roks, another speaker at the symposium who is researching the gangs, warns that "it’s not a good idea to lump all MCs together". "I think that the government’s tendency to classify all MCs as dangerous and undesirable is not the best approach. It could reinforce their outlawed status the gangs like to emphasise."

"Motorcycle gangs have actually grown since the Ministry of Justice introduced the zero-tolerance policy. While we can’t say there’s a causal relationship, it makes you wonder", Blokland adds.

Roks continues: "They don’t all need to be tackled so harshly. For instance, do the government really need to go after the Veterans?"

"If a club is runs into trouble with by the police, they could distance themselves from the criminal MCs. But they prefer that image", says Blokland

War

Raaijmakers: "The government want citizens to be afraid. A timid citizen is a good consumer. A drugs dealer can wear jeans and trainers or an Armani suit so a motorcycle club is a much easier target. There have been incidents concerning individual club members, but that’s all. They didn’t even manage to ban the Hells’ Angels. And they have never instigated proceedings against the Veterans MC.

Raaijmakers has hit hard times. "Clients of my automation firm have been approached by the Crime Squad. ‘You do business with a motorcycle gang and if you continue to work with them, you might find yourself in trouble." The landlord of my office was contacted by the Crime Squad, too. I’m losing my business and my income has dropped below welfare level." And then he was got into trouble with the club. "They rang me up two weeks after I had left: You’re in bad standing. It means your club cuts all ties with you and you’re not welcome at any other club. In fact, those clubs asked: ‘What on earth has he done to be in bad standing?’ I still don’t know."

Raaijmakers still rides. There’s a Honda Valkyrie F6 in his garden. "I prefer a Japanese bike to a Harley. I had a Harley, but that bike didn’t suit me or how I ride. It was nothing but trouble; things kept dropping off or it wouldn’t start and I needed to ask a Prospect to give me a push."

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We're an easy target

Is the Ministry of Justice’s zero-tolerance policy effective against motorcycle …