I'm a little bit ashamed to admit it, but when I heard that nine members of outlaw bike gangs had been killed and 18 more wounded in a shootout Sunday in Texas, my initial response was, "Hunh. . . . Whatever."
I have nothing against people who ride motorcycles. I don't judge folks by the mode of transportation they enjoy, except people who drive Hummers.
The shootout occurred at a multi-gang gathering at a Twin Peaks restaurant, which is a Hooters-concept knockoff, in Waco. The main combatants were members of the Bandidos and the Cossacks, and police officers responded with shooting once gunfire began. A conflict apparently began in the restaurant's parking lot, continued inside, then escalated back outside, then spilled out into the parking lot and embroiled lots of shooters, including cops. Figuring out exactly what happened and who shot who, police say, is going to be quite a project.
When I realized I didn't feel bad that these guys had died, I told myself, "You should feel terrible about not feeling bad." Then I told myself that if Sunday was average in terms of mortality, about 7,115 people died in the United States, and I didn't feel bad about any of them. The bikers were just the only ones I specifically knew I didn't feel bad about. We don't feel bad when renegades die, in prison fights or shootouts or wherever. It's expected.
Outlaw bike gangs are an odd phenomenon. The Bandidos are on a Department of Homeland Security list of known criminal organizations, for dealing drugs and carrying illegal weapons. The Hells Angels are on that list, and the Mafia and the Japanese Yakuza. The Cossacks aren't, because they're a smaller, more localized club, but not because they're not considered a criminal enterprise.
But what makes outlaw biker gangs unique is that you never see 300 guys at a big Mafia festival in Queens wearing jackets that say "Gambino Crime Family" or "The Lucky Lucchese." Because that would be stupid.
Even the Crips and the Bloods, though they have colors and clothing styles that allow them to recognize each other, are more discreet than outlaw biker gangs. They don't gather in packs of hundreds at bars and advertise to peaceful civilians their status as outlaws by stitching ominous club names on tracksuits. They do, admittedly, sometimes brag about their crimes and show off their guns online. But even that isn't as public as advertising that you're a member of a criminal enterprise at huge public gatherings of your pals.
When I started to read the names and ages of the dead, it humanized them somewhat.
The oldest, Jesus Delgado Rodriguez, was 65. Five of the nine were in their 40s. Experts say that's typical of outlaw bike gang members, but it sounds like a hard life for an aging dude. I'm in my 40s and I'm not sure I could hang with a stationary-bike spinning gang.
Read the names and ages and you realize they were probably more than just gang members. They loved people, mothers or daughters, and maybe had people who loved them. Maybe they adored pets. Nobody is just one thing.
We romanticize criminal brotherhoods in this country, with our love of "The Sopranos" and "Boyz n the Hood" and "Sons of Anarchy." It's entertaining to watch, and even to imagine ourselves being that tough and daring as part of such a bonded group.
But most of us don't join gangs. Or at least, if you're like me and your youth was entirely misguided, you don't keep doing it into true adulthood.
Somebody, somewhere probably cared about these guys. I search my heart and I find I don't, really. They styled themselves Bandidos and Cossacks, and met an unsurprising end.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.