Minnesota motorcyclists are sick and tired of being profiled by cops, and they want a new law to teach law enforcement to think twice before pulling over a biker. They just might get it.
Charles Fletcher, a longtime Twin Cities biker, was riding with his wife some 15 years ago when she crashed on the freeway. Some passersby stopped to help. Highway patrol arrived shortly after.
Fletcher recalls that while his wife lay bleeding on the ground with a pulverized right knee, a trooper suggested giving her a breathalyzer test because he thought he smelled alcohol. Then as the bikes were getting towed away, the officer patted Fletcher down before letting him get in the back of the squad.
"He's feeling through my pockets and goes, 'Is this a one-hitter?' No, it was a cell phone battery," Fletcher says. "And we certainly hadn't been drinking. I found all of that irritating. There goes my wife in the back of an ambulance and I'm getting hassled about this stuff."
Fletcher believes that some cops have a thing against bikers. They think they're all drug-using, gun-toting gangsters, and although certain motorcycle "clubs" have deserved that reputation, Fletcher says, not all big bearded dudes in black leather are as scary as they look. Many actually participate in charity runs.
Fletcher didn't file a complaint 15 years ago after his wife's accident. He says it just didn't occur to him as an option.
Over the years, he's heard from all sorts of motorcyclists that they're constantly getting pulled over under the pretense of bad taillights or expired tabs, only to be questioned about where they're from and where they're bound. He's encouraging bikers to go ahead and file more complaints when that happens.
"They look suspicious so they make up a reason to pull them over and start fishing for information," Fletcher says. "If someone's being pulled over for any kind of profiling, whether it's driving while black or driving while ... some other way of stereotyping people, it's unacceptable."
State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa and Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound are supporting a modest bill this upcoming legislative session that would order local law enforcement agencies into some sensitivity training when it comes to motorcyclists.
But law enforcement groups aren't sure what the motorcyclists and legislators are talking about. They say officers are already required to have a reason for stopping anyone, and they haven't been able to find any complaints filed by motorcyclists claiming discrimination.
Andy Skoogman of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police says he was concerned to hear that some bikers were unhappy, but he just couldn't see how the problem could be all that widespread.
"With training budgets incredibly tight in large and small agencies, it is hard to justify taxpayer dollars being spent on training police officers officers on an issue we can't confirm truly exists in communities across our state," Skoogman says. "We just don't have the evidence to support the claims that are being made."
James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association, sarcastically suggests that motorcyclists try to make it illegal for cops to stop anybody if they truly want a free pass. Motorcyclists get stopped because something they did tipped off a cop, nothing more, he says.
"My father always told me that if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and acts like a duck, it's probably a duck," Franklin says. "It's not about looks, it's their action that gets them pulled over."