Wednesday, April 8, 2009

BIKERS, VIOLENCE & EASTER BUNNIES - PARTS 1, 2, 3 & 4

Part one, two, three & four of five articles from the International President of God's Squad - John Smith. (Final piece tomorrow!)

PART 1.

In Australia there is currently political media frenzy about biker violence. I’m not underestimating the seriousness of the tragic deaths of brothers in the recent conflicts - or the incalculable anguish, anger and distress such violence produces for the loved-ones of the victims. But from a public standpoint, compared with three public massacres in as many weeks in America, it is much less a major cultural development. Certainly we should never judge a book by its cover. I remember the days when ‘straights’, who held wild imaginations about the lifestyles of ‘hippies’, beat up people simply for having long hair.

Easter is about violence. In that case an innocent man was falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned and submitted to a kangaroo court in which the judge (Pilate) gave in to the lynching party which tortured him all night prior to one of the most brutal forms of public execution known to man. He had threatened no one’s life, but had challenged the religious owners of the social turf. Strangely, He was crucified between two thieves. He gave and never took. He had warned, “Beware of greed, which is as bad as idolatry.” Before Jesus was killed Barabbas, a murderer and a revolutionary, was released.

Jesus was executed for His revolutionary advocation of peace and His denunciation of the sick society of His day. He told the political and religious leaders they were “nests of snakes.” He told the civil leaders it would be better if a huge millstone was tied around their necks and they be thrown out to sea, if they continued to treat people the way they were. Those messages didn’t go down too well! Attempts to assassinate Him had been enacted before He was crucified. But the revolution of Jesus was one of non-violent protest and resistance. He proclaimed systems driven by lust for power and wealth to be obsolete. He certainly threatened the keepers of the law, as they were called.


PART 2.

Now law is a strange thing. I am in solidarity with my biker brothers in opposition to the consorting laws being enacted against all outlaw clubs. You and I know you can’t fairly condemn someone simply because they are friends with a proven felon. And again, you cannot judge a book by its cover. After all, Jesus was a friend of publicans, sinners and other outcasts according to the scriptures. If Jesus’ detractors were operating under the proposed NSW laws against biker-association, they’d only have to check out the fact that two of Jesus’ disciples (mates) had been Zealots (terrorists). Three years before the decision to crucify Him, this man who did nothing but good could have been arrested and jailed for consorting with known criminals! I am not excusing criminal activity, but public disdain by an often-hypocritical society can not make friendship a moral crime, and bikers have the right to friendship.

If some of my brothers are producing dealing speed, I have a personal reason to feel deeply angry. I almost lost a son through that paranoid drug. I’ve seen the madness it produces. What if he was your own kid, brother? But I am aware the Old Book is right when it says that the love of money is the root of every kind of evil. Global prostitution of children is a huge moneymaking racket. The kids have no choice. It’s a money-driven industry. Brothers blind themselves to the madness and cruelty of the amphetamine trade. The price is right for the dealer but deadly for the victim. In past times so-called Church turf wars used to be about an (arguably misguided) honour code. Now I believe they’re about another kind of turf and the money. Honour is not involved. Charismatic religious leaders forsake their sacred vows to set up money-making schemes which fleece their trusting congregations, as is seen frequently on evening current affairs shows.

But it’s also true that in the state of Victoria where I live, we’ve seen a constant trickle of high ranking police, even top Drug Squad officers, sprung for their connection with the underbelly of the criminal world. Law-enforcement is part of the crooked deal. Observe that the lawmakers don’t choose to outlaw all the police because some are caught out, as they are doing with the biker clubs! The fact is that in the police force, in the political arena, in the judiciary, and on the streets there are always some who are willing to trade humanity for personal profit. There’s always been a conspiracy of the almighty dollar. In his song, The Word Justice, Jackson Browne reminds us that criminals are not necessarily who they appear to be!

In the streets of America the children are buried
Caught in an avalanche of weapons and drugs
They live and they die in the bowels of a business
That’s disguised as a war between the Crips and the Bloods
And there is a need to keep some things a secret
The C.I.A. deals protecting the source
And the government policies directly connecting the drugs and our wars
Does the word justice mean anything to you?
As the battlefield comes home and democracy falls through
I am waiting for the time to come
When the word will be real for everyone
And not just a word but a thing that can be done
But justice must be won.


PART 3


In the 1980s I was jailed in the Philippines for Human Rights’ activity in defiance of civil authorities. Only media attention and political embarrassment saved me and my mate from execution by firing squad. True, the proposed consorting laws are not as horrific as the reign of terror by the Mayor of Kidapawan, but all violations of human rights must be challenged, no matter who they target.

Too often the law is an ass! In the USA in recent years DNA testing has proven that hundreds of Death Row inmates have been wrongly convicted. While the Prosecution had pursued them, the guilty had evaded the law.

Consorting laws have been shown in the past to be a path to injustice and abuse of power by police. When we first founded a street-style church in the early 1970s, Victorian consorting laws permitted police to wait outside our church and arrest young ex-offenders who were worshipping together. They had become committed Christians, had quit crime but were arrested at church for being in association with one-another! So I would go to jail for resisting consorting laws. They violate several human rights elements of the United Nations Charter concerning freedom of assembly and freedom of association. Going to jail for the right reasons is noble. Jesus called for a kind of civil disobedience. He went to jail for justice. The Old Book tells people of faith that one of their faith acts should be to visit those who are in prison for whatever reason. Several of the early apostles were jailed for civil disobedience themselves. But remember, the Book actually indicates that in resistance of the State we should be prepared to be jailed for doing what’s right, rather than for doing what’s wrong.

In Anne Feeney’s ‘Have You Been To Jail For Justice’ Peter, Paul and Mary sang:

You law abiding citizens
Come listen to this song
People make laws
And people can be wrong
Once unions were against the law
But slavery was fine
Women were denied the vote
While children worked the mine
The more you study history
The less you can deny it
A rotten law stays on the books
'til folks with guts defy it!
Have you been to jail for justice?
I want to shake your hand
'Cause sitting in and laying down
Are ways to take a stand
Have you sung a song for freedom?
Or marched that picket line?
Have you been to jail for justice?
Then you're a friend of mine
Well the law is supposed to serve us
And so are the police
When the system fails
It's up to us to speak our piece
We must be ever vigilant
For justice to prevail
So get courage from your convictions
Let 'em haul you off to jail!
Have you been to jail for justice?
I want to shake your hand
'Cause sitting in and laying down
Are ways to take a stand
Have you sung a song for freedom?
Or marched that picket line?
Have you been to jail for justice?
Then you're a friend of mine

On the other hand, I am not soft towards drug running or violence. My appeal to my brothers is for the current violence to stop. Violence does not prove manhood, whereas self-control often does. After all, you can train a dog to kill on call but that doesn’t make a dog a man. I do embrace the biker code, Death Before Dishonour, and I do believe in loyalty to your mates. But I also believe it is right to negotiate, not just stride into someone else’s turf without seeking relationship and negotiation. Becoming attack dogs is a bad option. As bikers we have enough detractors and enemies without making enemies of brothers who share our love for the road and for outspokenness against the hypocrisy of the system. If we continue this way we will devour each other, and give cause (as society sees it) to rob us of our freedoms.

By nature I have a short fuse. And I don’t give in easily. As a first year high school student I was beaten unconscious by an older punk amateur boxer when I would not stop asking, “What did you do that for?” If my life had not been radically transformed by an encounter with Jesus, I may nowadays react violently to violence. So if my brother was taken out by a rival club, but for my conversion to a better way, I would want to take the law into my own hands.

Passively resisting wrong isn’t wrong, but avenging injustice with violence simply perpetuates violence… and brings the kind of attention bikers don’t need. Standing non-violently for justice, and negotiating whenever possible, truly shows the greater courage and manhood.


PART 4

The problem is, violence just doesn’t work. Where does it end? I was once a history teacher, and know that a study of wars, including so-called ‘just wars’, will reveal that seeds of retribution are sown for generations into the future. It is arguable that the humiliating Treaty of Versailles, which loaded the complex blame for WWI on the Germans alone, set the stage for the Germans to follow Hitler’s mad attempt to dominate the world as a superior race.

Anthropologists tell us that wars between tribes or nations has been a mark of human behaviour, but when members of the same tribe start killing each other it indicates the culture is in serious trouble. So when bikers are killing bikers it is culturally a very sad day for it indicates self-destruction.

I’ve spent times in Northern Ireland during the Troubles period. Even going to the shops one was confronted by soldiers pointing assault rifles in one’s face from British tanks. I’ve met so many on both sides of the conflict who have lost parents, brothers, sisters, cousins who were not even taking sides. But at a retreat centre called Rostrevor, I sat at table to eat with two amazing women. One’s husband had been slaughtered by the UDL Protestant paramilitary; the other’s husband was killed by the IRA. In encountering the real Christ they had had an amazing, life-changing experience and had become the greatest of friends! U2 got it right in Sunday, Bloody Sunday, remembering the deliberate massacre of Catholic men, women and children by the British in Derry.

And the battles just begun
There’s many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart
And its true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die
The real battle’s yet begun (Sunday, bloody Sunday)
To claim the victory Jesus won (Sunday, bloody Sunday)
On that Sunday, bloody Sunday.

Unlike so many on either side of the Irish conflict, U2 knew that real followers of Jesus don’t take their brothers’ lives - they will actually lay down their lives for their brothers. Even if the reader thinks that is weak, I certainly don’t. It takes far more guts to stand in the midst of conflict and warring egos as a peacemaker, than it does to join the mob in retribution. The distinctive element of being a human, made in the image of God, is not violence – any animal can act that out. It’s our capacity to love, to forgive and to be forgiven. You could hardly call Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi lacking in courage!

During the 9/11 disaster I was in America. Sting, at the New York post-9/11 concert sang his oldie, Fragile. It was more to the point than God Bless America, or even U2s contribution.

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are.

It’s strange that we grown men can face a bullet yet find peer group pressure so difficult, even when we know we’ll break the hearts of those we love if the war escalates.

One of my favourite bands, after ACDC and a few others, is The Eagles. The holocaust of 9/11 occurred on the eve of a planned recording of a new album. The tragedy put an end to that. But they produced a song with the madness of the New York catastrophe in mind.
In the face of several deaths and acts of violence in our biker scene, it is time for some clear thinking, and some peace making, before it’s too late. I want to offer The Eagles’ words to all my friends in the outlaw scene. I think it says it right:

There's a hole in the world tonight
There's a cloud of fear and sorrow
There's a hole in the world tonight
Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.
They say that anger is just love disappointed,
They say that love is just a state of mind,
But all this fighting over who will be anointed
Oh how can people be so blind?
Oh they tell me there's a place over yonder,
Cool water running through the burning sand.
Until we learn to love one another
We can never reach the promised land.
There's a hole in the world tonight
There's a cloud of fear and sorrow
There's a hole in the world tonight
Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.

... part five tomorrow

John Smith - GSCMC - International President

3 comments:

Barro said...

well done John, a great Easter perspective, good to see some relevance in this debate, looking forward to part 2, regards barro

Bernie Binns said...

Thankyou Smithy for your insights and wisdom around these topics. I look forward to the whole series and am recommending people have a good look at them all.
L&R Bernie.

Gozz said...

Much of what you have written is correct and needing to be heard by all. Thankyou mate.
Gozz.