A whole mess of wrong

Just before it all went wrong.

By now you will almost certainly have seen The Video. You know the one I’m talking about: the video in which an altercation between a large group of bikers and the driver of a Range Rover leads to a high-speed chase and a fair bit of violence.

If you’ve somehow managed to miss it, here’s what I’m talking about.
Like everyone, I have my own opinion on the whole thing and because we live in a world where it is so obnoxiously easy for me to share my opinion, I’ll do so here. Before that, though, I want to make a few points about other comments and opinions I’ve seen:
  • The bikers involved in the whole brouhaha were from all over the country. While there may have been gang members in attendance (a), they cannot collectively be described as a gang or a club or any other such thing that implies collusion. They were there to take part in a loosely organised mass event.
    • In principle there’s nothing wrong with a loosely organised mass event. Many of the people I see on forums who are now waving their flags of indignation were fully supportive of the also-loosely-organised 2 Million 100,000 Bikers to DC ride in September.
  • There’s a whole lot of cock swinging taking place in forums and comments sections and discussion groups, with way too many people making statements along the lines of: “This wouldn’t happen in my state, where we’re allowed to carry concealed weapons.” Uhm, OK, let’s play out that scenario: What if firearms had been involved here? Are we really going to assume that only the “good guy” would have one? Indeed, are we really so naive as to think that none of the bikers on that day were armed? What’s the likely outcome of one person engaging in a firefight against several people who have the one person surrounded? If the vehicle were to have been fired upon by 30-80 individuals, what do you suppose would have been the odds of survival for the much-exalted wife and 2-year-old child that were also in the car?
  • The cock swinging continues with many commenters claiming things like: “If it had been me, I would have taken out at least a dozen of those thugs.” Really? Really? If so, you need to be removed from society, because you are a sociopath. It’s one thing to harm a person whilst in defense of yourself, it is an entirely different thing to interpret a negative situation as a fantastic opportunity to wilfully maim and/or kill several other human beings.
    • Let’s imagine, for instance, the driver targeting several more bikers, including the video’s cameraman. What, in truth, has the cameraman done apart from violate traffic laws and be a general nuisance? Your outrageous suggestions of shooting or vehicular homicide are punishments that do not fit the cameraman’s crime.  
  • There’s additionally a certain amount of racism surfacing in comments and forums. It starts in the form of NIMBY-ist statements such as, “This wouldn’t happen where I’m from,” but quickly expands to make assumptions about where these bikers are from. Thanks to the fact that a fair few of them are safety-gear averse, one can see the colour of their skin. And on this evidence words like “barrio,” “ghetto” and “hood” are thrown around. I see frequent use of the word “animal” in people’s comments and I suspect its use is not always metaphorical.
But let’s not pretend there was no bad behaviour taking place. There is ample video evidence to support the claim that the motorcyclists involved in the incident had been riding very poorly for quite some time, using their mass presence to disrupt traffic and ignore basic traffic rules such as, “Drive on the right side of the road,” and “Don’t drive on the sidewalk.”
It was bad behaviour of the same ilk that earns people like JakeTheGardenSnake 86,000 subscribers on YouTube (of which I am one). But, you know, it’s funny and mischievous when Jake does it because he’s white. When blacks and Latinos do it, they are “animal thugs.”
So, let’s put that bad behaviour into perspective. Up until things went horribly wrong it was basically annoying-ass hooliganism on a large scale. I am using “hooligan” in the playful American sense here, rather than the more sinister British sense. It was a big group of people behaving badly because they could, more or less the way you might choose to try to climb a lamppost on Bourbon Street or splash around in a city fountain or flash your boobs in public or any number of other things that you know full well aren’t really law-abiding and proper. There is more than an hour of footage leading up to the incident that shows this behaviour. But I think it’s worth noting that you do not see any damage to property and no one is being particularly threatening, unless you are threatened by the sight of minorities.
Are they being jerks? Yes. Are they a terrifying criminal element? Not so much. In fact, note that often in the videos mentioned above bystanders will be cheering at the bikers as they pass.
Think about that last truth: the power of the group. Surely you will at some point have experienced the excitement of being in a crowd. Off the top of my head I can think of the euphoria I felt when in high school, watching our ice hockey team win the state championship. My friends and I and the thousands of others in the now-defunct St. Paul Civic Center screamed at the top of our lungs to will our team to victory in overtime. We gave everything and we felt that we were as much a part of it as the boys on the ice. It was intoxicating and wonderful — that sense of being part of something larger. 
Or, on a much more relaxed scale, there is the happy ego boost that comes from seeing people clap and cheer when I take part in a marathon; it makes me feel special and important. The people who clap at marathons are not clapping for me, Chris Cope, but for all of the runners, for the collective. There is joy in being part of that.
And that is why most of the bikers were there that day. They weren’t there to cause real trouble, but to delight in the empowerment that comes from being in a group so big it can ignore traffic laws.
Sometimes that feeling can give an individual a little too much swagger, which is, I think, the starting point of the incident everyone in the motorcycling world is talking about. A lot of comments I’ve seen try to guess at what might have happened in the moments immediately before the camera was switched on; perhaps there was an altercation we did not see. I don’t think so. With the rider having recorded so much video that day — and all the rest of it beginning and ending with no particular reason — I’m assuming the video’s start time is just coincidence, rather than the camera having been clicked on in response to something.
At the very beginning of the video, you see the cameraman checking himself in a side mirror to make sure his camera light is on, but immediately thereafter there is no indication from his positioning or posture that the Range Rover is of particular interest to him. Video from the hours previous shows the riders have been swarming cars like this all day without incident. In all past instances, the driver has slowed to a stop and the bikers have ridden on.
It’s here that I take the unpopular view that the Range Rover’s driver may not be entirely innocent in the incident’s beginning. Notice that all the other riders are positioning to move past the Range Rover. They don’t care about it. But then one rider, wearing a back protector and a white helmet, does a double take. He’s spotted something the driver has done. Perhaps the driver has made a face or extended the finger or some other minor infraction. But it is enough that the cyclist chooses to move in front of the Range Rover.
It’s here that the pissing match begins. Looking back at the driver the whole time, the biker slows, basically asserting his dominance. The Range Rover, however, does not slow. I think this is because The SUV’s driver is caught up in the immediacy of the situation and narrowly focused on the individual rather than the group. Whereas the biker is effectively communicating, “WE are in control because WE are bigger than you,” the driver is asserting “I won’t obey YOU because I am bigger than YOU.”
We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in that situation where someone is being a dick and we don’t want to back down. My feeling is that the driver here misread the stand-off as an individual one and felt that because he was behind the wheel of a massive SUV and his opponent astride a motorcycle, he was the clear winner and he was not going to back down.
The battle of wills results in a love tap on the motorcycle (not enough to knock the rider off) and suddenly the whole thing goes terribly, terribly wrong. For the next several minutes, many people will make many bad decisions.
For a second, let’s step out of the worlds of that motorcyclist and that driver — named by police as Christopher Cruz and Alexian Lien, respectively — and think about the surrounding situation. Imagine you’re one of the other bikers. Right up to the point that the SUV came to a stop, you were having fun owning the freeway and being part of this great big awesome thing. Now, suddenly, another biker — a fellow biker, a “brother” — is stopped and saying he has been hit by a guy in an expensive vehicle. Maybe you know Cruz, maybe you don’t, what’s your reaction going to be? Whose side are you going to be on?
I know whose side I’d be on by default: the motorcyclist. Knowing no details of the incident, I’d almost certainly, instinctively, support the person who was part of “my” group. I know I would do this, because I have before. I once saw a bicyclist yelling at a driver at an intersection while I was bicycling; without having seen what caused the yelling, whose side do you think I rushed to? In my situation there was no violence, but if the other cyclist had punched the driver, would I have stopped him? Probably not. If the other cyclist had produced a D lock and started smashing the car, would I have protested? Probably not.
So, my guess is that Cruz, particularly emboldened by the power of being in a group, chose to respond very badly. Though, I’ll admit — with embarrassment — that I have hit a car before in anger when on my motorcycle. And I was by myself. If you’re a motorcyclist, you probably have, too. Or maybe you really wanted to. In a group as large as Cruz’s you might not have restrained yourself.
In a group as large as Cruz’s, a person might feel the “right” to share in Cruz’s anger at being hit and that person might choose to display their anger in kind. According to news reports, the motorcyclists at this point used their helmets to damage Lien’s SUV and someone slashed one of his tires.
I’m not sure about the accuracy of those news reports, though. Watch the video and look at the posture of people standing in the vicinity of the SUV. They’re just standing there, not moving in on the vehicle, but observing. Additionally, I don’t see people waving helmets in the air and using them to damage the vehicle. After watching over and over again, I see one person, Cruz, kick the SUV and then try to open its door. There’s no doubt he’s angry, but he seems to be the only one.
I can fully understand Lien’s terror at this point, but whether it was just Cruz or several bikers, Lien’s response to the situation is not acceptable. The correct response is to have screamed, “I’m sorry. I fucked up,” over and over until the people attacking your car feel vindicated. You let them get back on their bikes, swearing a storm at you, and they ride off. Then you call the police, you call the insurance company for damages to your SUV, and you go home to tell everyone that motorcyclists are dickheads.
What you don’t do is attempt vehicular manslaughter and flee the scene of an accident. You don’t drive your vehicle over human beings.

Let’s stress that point again, friends: Do not drive your vehicle over people. It’s wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Driving over people is wrong. Always. That is a truth that stands independent of situation: It is wrong to launch your car at human beings.

Personally, I would guess that the slashed tires that Lien experienced were actually the result of his driving over motorcycles rather than knives produced and used within the 12 seconds during which the bikers and SUV were stopped.
Thereafter, it is wrong that the bikers choose to chase after Lien en masse rather than contact police. It is wrong that Lien hits another motorcyclist. And it is wrong that when the group finally catches up to Lien they beat the hell out of him in front of his family.
In my opinion, two people are to blame for all this: Cruz and Lien. Both should be arrested. Both should be charged with criminal acts. So far that has only happened to Cruz. If overall public opinion is going to let Lien go, portraying him as some sort fatherly hero for paralysing someone other than the person who was attacking his car (b), then maybe he deserved the beating he got.
That is, he deserves the beating for hitting several motorcyclists and fleeing the scene. In terms of the initial confrontation between himself and Cruz, it never should have been anything more than an exchange of profanities.
The potential fallout of all this is what unnerves me, however. What happens now? As a motorcyclist, I can’t help but be concerned that some people will look at this mess and interpret it to mean that the correct way to deal with a threat is to run it over and speed away. 
I can quite easily imagine a scenario in which an old couple is next summer driving their land yacht to see Mt. Rushmore. Proud, God-fearing Americans, they are eager to pay homage to the great men whose ideas and bravery shaped their wonderful country. Having lived in the East Coast all their lives, however, they’ve never heard of Sturgis, South Dakota, nor do they know its significance. Now, suddenly, out in the middle of nowhere, they find themselves surrounded by dozens of ruffians in leather jackets astride huge rumbling machines. “Oh, Harriet, this is just like what happened in Manhattan last year! But now they’re after us! There’s only one answer: Swerve wildly! Hit as many as you can! Then punch the accelerator and don’t look back!”
That’s a comic scenario, but it’s a serious concern. I have had a person swerve his car dangerously close to my bike and when confronted he irrationally explained that he had done so because “my kind” were always zipping in and out of traffic (remember that filtering is legal in the UK — this man just didn’t know it). He was angry at someone else for a perceived wrong and chose to take it out on me. What if he had felt the law would have let him get away with running me over?
We can criticise the bikers who chose to take part in the Hollywood Stuntz event. We should condemn Christopher Cruz for instigating such a ridiculous and tragic incident. But we should also make it clear that Lien’s actions were not acceptable. He responded to a wrong with an even greater wrong. And even his 2-year-old probably knows what two wrongs don’t make.
(a) I feel the need to call myself out here because I’m making an assertion for which there is no particularly solid evidence. I don’t know anything about gangs in the New York City area. Indeed, I am so removed from that culture I would not be able to identify a single gang member from any single part of the world. If I’m going to complain about people’s racism in their response to all this, I should be equally critical of my assumption that a person is a gang member simply because he’s riding a quad bike in an urban area. This is an assumption based solely on the film 12 O’Clock Boys.

(b) According to some news reports Edwin Mieses was paralysed when Lien ran him over. In order for him to be in the vehicle’s path he obviously could not have been the person banging on the door. Based on pictures I’ve seen of him online, I’m assuming him to be the person riding a green Ninja, wearing a purple shirt and a black open-face helmet. In the video, you can see that he parks his bike several feet from the SUV then walks toward it. His gait is not hurried or threatening, nor is he gesturing in any way. Shortly thereafter, the SUV launches forward and drives over him. I can imagine a scenario in which Mieses was walking over to mediate the situation. I’m not saying that happened. There’s no way of knowing what he said, but certainly his posture when visible doesn’t suggest that in the next 2 seconds he will commit an act that sees him deserving of being run over.