An organization dedicated to promoting motorcyclist’s rights and awareness is working to clear the air of rumors while showing support for peaceful protests occurring around the state.
ABATE of Illinois released a statement Thursday after incidents were reported at protest sites last week, including a protest in Bloomington on Sunday May 31st, where 21 year old Marshal Blanchard allegedly rode his motorcycle around a police barricade and into a crowd of people protesting the death of George Floyd, who died while being taken into police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Blanchard is now facing 17 total charges, including hate crimes, aggravated battery, aggravated assault and misdemeanor battery. At least two people were injured in the incident.
Josh Witkowski, State Legislative Coordinator for ABATE of Illinois says Blanchard’s actions do not represent the motorcycle community in Illinois, however the incident at the Bloomington protest caused rumors that lead to greater tension in other areas of the state.
“..And it spread pretty quick. And it ended up affecting a different group all the way down in Marion, so you’re talking like a three or four hour spread there. So the incident up north, ended up effecting a group down south, and once we saw that happen, we felt the need to step up and say something.”
Witkowski says ABATE of Illinois felt the need to clear the air after hearing rumors were spreading around protests that groups of bikers were showing up at protest sites to disrupt and shut down the protests.
He says ABATE officials worked hard to release a statement that would ease the fears many protesters may have had after hearing such rumors, and as a way to show their support, and not as an attempt to draw attention away from peaceful protests.
“It was a “”Hey, we see you and we recognize your right to protest.”” It was more about the groups that are protesting and letting them know that these rumors that bikers are trying to shut them down are completely unfounded. And that that runs very counter to the ideals of freedom that the biker community holds dear. And to kind of give an insight into how bikers are, so that way there wasn’t a perceived threat when there is no threat.
It was more of a “”Hey, you’re exercising your First Amendment rights, we exercise our First Amendment right as well, we completely see that, understand that and respect that.””
Witkowski says differing rumors that made their way to the event in Marion Illinois, affected both protesters and motorcycle club members when a peaceful demonstration was organized in an area next to the club’s meeting space this past Monday.
“And everybody has heard the rumors of these outside groups coming in and starting violence which, nobody wants- the organizers of the demonstrations don’t want, the motorcycle groups obviously don’t want, nobody in the community wants violence.
So a couple members went up to the square, just to kind of see how big the group was. When they were on the square, immediately they were pegged as trying to shut down the protest.”
He says the incident was made worse when a local media group reported that the club had showed up intending to disrupt the protest.
“Fortunately, the media then took the time to engage with that motorcycle club, and found out nothing could be further from the truth. They ended up retracting their statement, and from what I understand as of yesterday, there may end up even being a combined prayer service coming up this week down there in Marion, with members from the African American community and members of this motorcycle club. It’s actually a faith based club down there.”
In the statement released Thursday, ABATE of Illinois says “One of the issues raised by protesters is the profiling of citizens based on appearance, and how it affects interactions with law enforcement…”
Witkowski says the group wants those who are protesting against racial injustice to know they have their support.
“There is a certain segment of the motorcycle population that- and I’ve been subject to it myself, that because you wear a vest, because you wear a group name on your back, you are treated differently.
And so we put that in there as an acknowledgment of hey, you know, we understand that this is an issue, it’s something that we’ve seen ourselves, and maybe something good can come of all of this.”
The statement goes on to say:
“This is an issue that the motorcycle community is familiar with, and while we do not seek to equivocate motorcycle profiling with racial profiling, it is our hope that a positive conversation on these issues could end all types of profiling.”
I asked Mr. Witkowski if there was a message he wanted to convey to protesters, club members and the public in general.
“The only thing that I would encourage everybody to do, is take time and have a conversation. Rather than assume that a group is out to do something, take time to talk to the group. Don’t just judge somebody, or anybody by how they appear. Take the time to actually talk to them.”
A special event called Prayer on the Square has been set for Wednesday at 6:30 pm in Marion. It is not known if this is the event Mr. Witkowski mentioned, however “Organizers say the event was organized for the community to come together, and everyone is welcome to attend and unite in prayer.”
Below is the statement from ABATE in it’s entirety:
*Statement from ABATE of Illinois on Recent Events Around Illinois*
June 4th, 2020
ABATE of Illinois is a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the rights and freedoms of all motorcyclists and off road riders in Illinois. ABATE of Illinois has a long history of using 1st Amendment rights to assemble, demonstrate, and address grievances with those in government. As such, ABATE of Illinois supports the rights of citizens all over Illinois to peacefully assemble and protest.
Recently there have been events throughout Illinois where motorcyclists have been involved in some of the actions around Illinois leading to some misconceptions about bikers and their intentions toward the protests.
In Bloomington, Marshall Blanchard used a motorcycle to run over peacefully assembled protesters on Sunday May 31st. His supporters have circulated pleas of help in the motorcycle community saying that he was scared and in a bad situation. According to eyewitnesses and reports from the scene, he rode around a police barricade and directly into the crowd while wearing a motorcycle club support shirt. His actions do not represent bikers in Illinois and go against the very ideals of individual freedoms that we hold dear.
In Marion, members of different motorcycle clubs watched local protests to guard against outside agitators who may try to mar the demonstration with violence. This same vigilance has been repeated in different cities throughout Illinois. Originally local media described the members as there to stop the protest. Thankfully, they printed a retraction when they learned the peaceful intentions of these bikers.
One of the issues raised by protesters is the profiling of citizens based on appearance, and how it affects interactions with law enforcement. This is an issue that the motorcycle community is familiar with, and while we do not seek to equivocate motorcycle profiling with racial profiling, it is our hope that a positive conversation on these issues could end all types of profiling.
The foundations of American freedoms are a cornerstone of the motorcycle community and ABATE encourages all bikers throughout Illinois to work with their communities to ensure safe demonstrations of these freedoms.