Officers warn motorcyclists riding to honor Martin Luther King Jr. to 'abide by the law'

Law enforcement community prepares for 'Wheels Up, Guns Down' event

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Had Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. survived the April 4, 1968 shooting at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, and had he enjoyed a long life, he would have turned 90 years old Tuesday. During his fight for racial justice, he was often arrested and fined for disobeying a police order. 

To honor the Baptist preacher, who earned the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent campaign against segregation, thousands of African-American motorcyclists participate in the annual "Wheels Up, Guns Down" event in South Florida. 

The event, although well intentioned, is full of contradictions. Over the last few years, some of the more defiant riders perform reckless stunts and use vehicles that are not legal on the streets of Florida. This is why the rally is held under threat.

"If you are going to come into our city, abide by the law. If you want to ride through our city, abide by the law," said Officer Christian Lata, a spokesman for the Hollywood Police Department. "If you break the law, you will be arrested."

Florida Highway Patrol troopers, deputies and police officers from law enforcement agencies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties will be monitoring the event. Lata warned they will be looking for reckless drivers and all-terrain-vehicles and dirt bikes, which can be deadly on public roads.  

According to the Specialty Vehicle Industry Association, the ATVs are not equipped with on-road tires or proper lighting and they are very prone to flip over. ATV laws vary from state to state. In Florida, the vehicles cannot be operated on a public road, street or highway. 

FHP will be using aircraft to monitor traffic on expressways in South Florida, according to Trooper Joe Sanchez, a spokesman for FHP. Officers are also concerned about the dangers of the vehicles that they say follow the riders while carrying gasoline. 

If a rider gets arrested in South Florida, law enforcement officers will be confiscating motor vehicles and issuing penalties. Some of the riders last year didn't have the bill of sale or the nearly $200 required to recover their motorcycles. 

About the Authors: