“You’ve been warned,” local law enforcement officials say to “Wheels Up, Guns Down” riders.
South Florida police, deputies and troopers are out in force to stop reckless riders and put away dirt bikes, ATVs and other off-road vehicles that run red lights, ignore stop signs, and create other issues on the streets during this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
The unsanctioned and independently organized “Wheels Up, Guns Down” event has attracted riders from around the country to South Florida for the past five years.
Some of the participants claim that actions such as weaving along busy roadways at high rates of speed is done to honor the civil rights movement, as well as to protest against gun violence.
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony sees things differently. He warned last week, “We want to send a clear and strong message to those who decide to come here and take this opportunity for sport, to violate the laws and become reckless and put our men and women in harm’s way. We will enforce every single law that’s on the books as it relates to traffic.”
There were 29 arrests, 25 vehicles seized, and two guns taken off riders in Broward during last year’s event.
Miami-Dade Police Division Chief Hector Llevat agrees with Sheriff Tony. Llevat says, “You can go anywhere from traffic citations to having your vehicles towed or seized, which is going to cause an additional expense. Depending on the violation, it could also lead to arrest, which is another costly endeavor.”
According to Florida Highway Patrol Major Robert Chandler, there are eyes in the skies to help officers catch up to violators. He adds, “There is no escaping our air support. These bikes may outrun our vehicles — we’re not going to chase — but we will find you.”
In addition, there are unmarked patrol cars on the roads.
Even if riders do obey road rules, vehicles such as dirt bikes and ATVs are not street legal.
Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione offers an alternative, saying, “Celebrate the holiday the correct way and enjoy the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade followed by a day’s worth of activities.”