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Bikers, Civil Disobedience, and the Constitution

Article by FastFred Ruddock, January 15, 2007

First I will provide a little background information to put everything in perspective. This article is the result of a request from ABATE of WV to speak on the subject of civil disobedience at their legislative seminar. Many have asked me why I choose to ride without a helmet in helmet law states such as North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Others have asked how South Carolina bikers amended their helmet law to remove the artificial consequences for those over 21 years of age. It is my hope this article will help address and answer these questions.

I have been riding with or without a helmet as I choose for several years. However early in 2006 several friends in Western North Carolina and elsewhere asked me to write articles describing these adventures. I had no idea writing articles about my lidless rides would draw this level of interest to the issue. I rode more than 7,000 miles without a helmet in states with mandatory helmet laws during 2006 before finally scoring a ticket at the Fall Cherokee Rally. At the time of this writing I have a pending court date in Bryson City to fight the ticket.

Misleading Slogans of the Motorcyclists’ Rights Movement such as "Let Those Who Ride Decide" and "Freedom of Choice" seem to infer that we have not had choice all along. A decision is made each time any of us throws a leg over a bike as to whether or not to don a helmet regardless if the state has a mandatory helmet law or not. Many of us have tickets for not wearing helmets to prove this point.

America was founded upon civil disobedience. The Declaration of Independence and our Tea Parties were acts of civil disobedience. While patriots in Boston threw tea into their harbor patriots in Charleston took British tea and sold it to buy arms for their minutemen. Other acts of civil disobedience such as sit-down strikes have given us a 40 hour work week and other rights we now take for granted.

The term civil disobedience was coined by Henry David Thoreau in his essay which explained why he refused to pay a poll tax and as a result was imprisoned. Thoreau opposed the war in Mexico and the Fugitive Slave Act. Civil disobedience is public, nonviolently, and conscientiously breach of a law seen as illegitimate or immoral. Participants of civil disobedience are willing to accept legal consequences to demonstrate the fidelity of law.

"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty)

The reason for using civil disobedience is to shift the focus of debate from the device to the law. Our enemy's battlefield of choice is arguing the device using statistics. The device is the helmet. Statistics were developed by the royal courts of Europe for the purpose of gambling. Gambling is illegal in most of the United States; you and I are not allowed to gamble with our own hard earned money. However the safety nannies and legislators are allowed to gamble with our liberty using statistics.

Our enemies like to focus on the fear of what might happen. A biker might have an accident. That biker might get injured. That biker might get injured more severely without using the device called a safety helmet. That biker might lack sufficient medical insurance. That biker might cost tax payers a little more money. It seems odd that bikers are not considered tax payers when this argument is used. Also with the current prices of motorcycles it is more likely the average biker has a good job with sufficient insurance than most smokers or others using dangerous devices. Our enemies choose the battlefield where they have the high ground. Like Jesse McDugald once said "Figures don't lie but liars can figure and our opponents have a lot more practice figuring than we do."

Bikers have the high ground when the battlefield is shifted from the device to the law. Try justifying punishment for not wearing a hat. Our opponents are woefully unprepared to explain and justify the arrest, incarceration, and fine of a citizen for his own good.

The bikers of South Carolina in the past allowed the enemy to choose the battlefield and take the high ground. Time and time again the bikers of ABATE of SC would charge into battle and have as much success as Pickett's Charge. However in 1980 the bikers changed their strategy and argued the law instead of the device and they won. Part of the strategy was organized civil disobedience. Many ABATE members were stopped and ticketed for not wearing helmets; they provided real examples of the costs of enforcement.

For greater understanding consider a few other devices. You must be at least 21 years of age to drink alcohol or over 18 years of age to smoke tobacco. One would be hard pressed to find good reasons to use either of these devices especially before a legislative committee or sub-committee meeting. However it would be even more difficult to create a list of good reasons to arrest, incarcerate, and fine a citizen for drinking or smoking in the absence of any other crime.

Civil disobedience allows us to move the debate from the device to the law where we have the high ground. However civil disobedience complements the legislative effort; civil disobedience does not replace our legislative efforts. The civil disobedience act of riding without a helmet and being ticketed provides a measurable metric or cost. When many bikers take part the costs to society and the state to enforce and prosecute become harder to ignore. Even if you lose the court case you can still create a victory by forcing the state to lose money. Consider the cost to prosecute includes the courthouse lights, and the salaries of the judge, clerk, district attorney, the arresting police officer, and others. If your case only takes an hour of time you have likely made them pay more than they collected. The individual costs to conscientious citizens breaching the illegitimate law are also highlighted. Rather than focusing on the device we focus on the oppression of citizens based on nothing more than hypothetical fears.

The risks of civil disobedience can be minimized. First know and understand your constitutional rights. Be observant at all times. Most importantly break only one law at a time. Clean helmet tickets can help the cause. However dirty tickets or those tainted with additional tickets such as speeding or DUI will not help our movement.

Traffic Stop 101: be prepared for traffic stops and police encounters. Keep private items out of view. Know the location of all your papers; do not store your papers with any contraband. Be courteous and non-confrontational. Ask why you were pulled over. Do not apologize after a traffic stop; any apology you make can be used as admission of guilt later in court. Just say no to warrantless searches; exercise the Fourth Amendment. Determine if you can leave. You have the right to terminate a police encounter unless you have been arrested or legally detained. Ask the officer: "I have to be on my way. Am I free to go?"

Do not answer any questions without an attorney. Refusing to answer questions cannot be used against you. The Fifth Amendment guarantees your right to refuse to answer questions. However any answers you give can be used against you and likely will be used against you in court. Leave debating with officer to the pros like Quigley; save your arguments for the court. When the questioning begins the officer already knows what he knows and nothing you say will make him know less; quite likely what you tell him will just give him additional information to use against you.

Do not physically resist during an arrest. Simply remain silent or state "I am not resisting arrest but I do not consent to any searches."

Remember civil disobedience does not replace legislative efforts. Use civil disobedience to help choose your battlefield and take the high ground. Avoid collateral damage; seek clean no helmet tickets. Create defense packets and share with your fellow freedom fighters. We begin to win when costs to the state to enforce and prosecute exceed our fines and court costs so share the wealth. Have fun! Fun is contagious others will join the effort and your SMRO.

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