America fought for freedom when the founders
felt that they were un justly wronged. Achieving it, they then set forth
to guarantee it for all generations to come. The very first U.S.
Constitutional Amendment pro claims every American’s right to peaceful
protest; it states that no law shall abridge “the right of the people
peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of
The protest is a powerful tool, when used
intelligently and directed by able leaders. The Blacks have proven that,
notably in recent years. But, the pro test is not restricted to modern
times, nor is it an American innovation. It is, however, basically the
tool of the minority and the down-trodden.
Activist groups, such as the SNCC and the
Yippies rammed protest down the public’s throat, during the late Sixties
until it carried an unpopular stigma. Even so, the public took notice of
their complaint. Had their objectives been more palatable, they might
have been reached.
The disposition of the protesters seems to
have a direct bearing on the success of the venture. More pacifistic
groups seem to lack the determination or the drive to really succeed,
while the more militant types excel. Take, for instance, the lack of
response to the Indians at Wounded Knee and Chicanos in the barrios; as
compared to the more aggressive Blacks’ successes throughout the
If it is true that militancy aids successful
protest, what group would find it more persuasive than bikers? Most
states have enacted a helmet law, which many bikers firmly believe eats
at the very heart of individual rights and freedom. These same bikers
loudly and bitterly complain to their brothers, but few are disposed to
take positive steps to have the law re pealed.
Apparently, the reluctance to act stems from a
foible in the character of human nature, or more likely a series of
weaknesses: (a) most of us have the “mañana” tendency. That is: never do
today what can be done tomorrow. In other words we are naturally lazy;
(b) most of us feel that we are such little cogs in such a big machine,
that any effort on our part would be wasted, and (c) most of us are
quite willing to let the other fellow beat his head against the
unrelenting wall, as we sit by and watch. If he fails, he fails alone;
but if he wins, we all win.
A strong exception to the usual apathy is
currently taking place in the State of Connecticut, and indeed has been
going on there for some time. Several nearby states are beginning to
follow Connecticut’s example, and it appears that their efforts just
might not be in vain. At first hundreds, and now thousands of bikers are
rising in protest, and the number is rapidly growing. What began in
Connecticut as not much more than a leaky faucet, has gathered strength
over the years, and is now becoming a raging torrent which is showing
signs of wearing away the rock wall of legislation.
Eight years ago, the federally enacted Highway
Safety Act of 1 966 went into effect. In part it required the mandatory
wearing of approved headgear for motorcyclists. Special highway funds
were to be released to all of the states, contingent on an enactment of
similar legislation at the state level. Most of the 50 states were eager
to comply in order to be eligible for the dole. Connecticut passed its
helmet law in 1967.
At that time, the Connecticut Motorcycle
Association, Inc. was formed by Donald Pittsley, known by his many
friends as Pappy, of the Huns M/C (CC Mar 1974). The primary purpose of
the CMA was and is to combat the helmet law, although it has also been
instrumental in defeating other anti-bike legislation. Pappy has since
hung up his colors in order to devote more time to CMA efforts.
It was soon discovered that Connecticut’s law
was so vague as to be unenforceable, and it was eventually ignored by
biker and lawman alike.
The law lay dormant until 1971, when a repeal
bill was introduced into the State House of Representatives by Rep.
Rufus Rose. CMA members had done their homework well, in the form of
letters to their elected representatives. The bill cleared the House by
a vote of 120 to 32.
A week later the bill cleared the State
Senate, sponsored by Senator Mondani. Approval by Governor Meskill was
assured by a firm election campaign promise to Pappy and the CMA.
At this time, the hopes of repeal backfired.
In what has been termed pure blackmail, acting Administrator of the
Department of Transportation, Douglas Toms, telegrammed the Governor
stating that if the bill was en acted into law, highway funds would be
withheld from the state of Connecticut, as is the DOT. ‘s policy. The
funds amounted to approximately eight million dollars, a prize the state
could ill afford to lose. Governor Meskill vetoed the bill.
The law remained on the books, but it was
still virtually unenforceable. In fact, the Connecticut State Police is
sued a traffic bulletin, which remained in effect through 1 973, that
after discussions with Circuit Court officials, it was decided to take
no enforcement action against violators of the helmet and eye protection
laws. The municipal police departments concurred.
However, late in 1 973, William Heard, State
Motor Vehicle Department Director, announced that Connecticut had been
notified it would lose federal highway funds if it did not enforce the
helmet law. A new regulation was written paralleling federal guidelines
and by February 1, 1 974, it went into effect.
Five minutes after becoming law, the first
citation was issued, to none other, than Pappy Pittsley. Pappy pleaded
not guilty and insisted on a jury trial, setting a precedent which is
now standard operating procedure for most of the state’s helmet law
Jury trials are time consuming and they are
costly for the courts. Since a very large number of Connecticut’s
cyclists insist on riding bare-headed. The tickets are being issued at a
prodigious rate. Some of the courts, notably those for the city of
Bridgeport (Connecticut’s largest), are automatically dismissing helmet
tickets, in an effort to minimize costs and reduce the docket.
A victory was scored when Circuit
Court Judge John V. Cassidento presided over a
Hartford helmet case. The May 22, 1974 transcript reads as follows:
THE CLERK: Failure to wear a head gear on a
motorcycle, head gear for a motorcycle—what the heck is this word—oh,
yeah, motorcyclist and passenger, how do you plead?
THE ACCUSED: Not guilty.
THE COURT: Do you move for a dismissal?
THE ACCUSED: Sir?
THE COURT: Say yes.
THE ACCUSED: Yes.
THE COURT: Granted. The matter is dismissed. I
might add, parenthetically, the statute is unconstitutional.
Later, Judge Cassidento further stated that
the helmet law “is the same as ordering a person to wear seatbelts. I
just have some qualms about the right of government to go into areas of
this sort.” Shortly afterward, the U.S. House of Representatives voted
337 to 49 to put an end to the DOT’s requirement that new autos must be
equipped with a seatbelt-ignition interlock system. Upon introducing the
bill into the Senate, Sen. Tom Eagleton, of Missouri, stated: ‘‘If
freedom is to have any meaning in this country, it certainly must
encompass the right of an individual to lead his life as he sees fit, so
long as it does not interfere directly with the similar pursuit by
Applying more pressure, the CMA, spearheaded
by the Huns M/C began staging protest rallys. The first really big one
occurred in July of 1 974, in and around the city of Waterford. Leading
the nearly 1,000 bare headed bikers on a 40 mile ride was State Rep.
Rufus Rose. Rose, 70, who claims he always wears a helmet when riding,
made an exception in this case. Area police cooperated with the protest
and no arrests or citations were issued.
After the protest, the Connecticut area
American Automobile Association prepared a statement charging Rose with
abuse of office and a violation of the public trust. The statement
called for legislative censure. Rose countered by saying that the CMA
was well equipped to protect the interests of motorcyclists and the AAA
should stick to dealing with automobiles.
Although most of Connecticut’s 66,000
registered cyclists no doubt support anti-helmet legislation, only about
2500 are CMA members, but the list is growing. The previously mentioned
foibles in their character probably keep the balance of the potential
membership on the sidelines.
Imagine, if you will, a protest rally staged
by say 50,000 bikers, in a state the size of Connecticut. The impact
would be tremendous. As it is, even a showing of 1,000 or so protesting
CMA members is raising a clamor heard around the nation. These rallys
hit the state’s pocket book too, in additional police costs incurred in
providing extra traffic control. Rising state costs are causing
questions to be raised by both taxpayers and legislators. The arguments
for maintaining and enforcing helmet laws are rather fragile, and the
pro testers are forcing the issues to be examined under bright revealing
Bob Steele, a U.S. Representative who is
campaigning to be Connecticut’s next Governor, has already met with the
CMA, and discussed the needs and problems of the state’s bikers. As a
result he has introduced, into Congress, bill H.R. 16431, which is
designed to force the DOT to release highway funds to the states, even
though helmet laws are repealed. If the bill is approved and passed, it
only remains necessary for each state to repeal their laws, and doing so
will be simplified since the threat of federal blackmail will no longer
Representative Steele realizes that 66,000
bikers constitute a formidable voting block. The CMA and the Huns are
now making a concerted effort to register and inform all of
Connecticut’s motorcyclists. Steele has promised to make every effort to
gain enactment of H.R. 16431 at the earliest possible date, and then
after passage he pledges to support repeal of Connecticut’s helmet law.
In mid-September I was invited by Rogue,
National President of the Huns M/C to tag along during a large pro test
that was directed at the State Capitol in Hartford. The event was very
impressive, orderly, and well organized; but it took an unexpected turn
at the end, which can only serve to further the cause by gaining
additional publicity and costing the tax payers even more money.
Cyclists from all over the state, as well as
Huns and affiliated club members from several other states and Canada
participated in the protest.
The 55 mile ride from the Huns mother-club
headquarters in Bridge port was without incident. Several hundred bikes
droned along, two- abreast in a three-quarter mile long caravan,
punctuated only by numerous toll-station stops. Upon entering the
capitol grounds, we joined hundreds of earlier arrivals, Police squad
cars were in attendance, but they kept a respectful distance, just
outside the grounds.
It was an unreal scene, as thou sands of
bikers congregated around the imposing old marble and granite capitol
building, its gold dome shining dully in the late summer sun. For two
hours isolated groups of bikers rode in from every point, adding to the
swelling throng. Quick-lunch and ice-cream vendors lent a carnival
atmosphere to the peaceful demonstration. The CMA public address systems
cautioned protesters to keep the grounds clean and to use trash cans.
A crash helmet was burned on a cement walk
directly in front of the Capitol, symbolizing transgressions on the
rights of those gathered. As the thick black smoke billowed skyward,
small groups of interested citizens threaded their way through the
milling bikers, asking questions and admiring the gleaming scooters.
Some later arrivers complained of police harassment and detainment along
their routes, but even so, the turnout exceeded expectations. Estimated
attendance reached more than 3000 bikers on over 2000 motorcycles.
The loud-speakers boomed that it was decided
to divide into several large groups to ride to a rendezvous at the
fairgrounds in Danbury. Each group was to take a separate route, meaning
that the groups would travel between 50 and 70 miles depending on the
Our group, although small in comparison,
consisted of some 700 machines. Once on the turnpike the group proceeded
to fill all three lanes and traveled at speeds from 40 to 55 miles per
hour. Trailing cars were not permitted to pass, but since the huge
assembly was proceeding at or near the legal speed limit, no great
traffic problem resulted.
After riding about 40 miles in this manner,
the group slowed and stopped for a toll station near West Haven. Two
lanes were left open at the barrier to allow automobiles to overtake and
pass the large group. Clearing the station, frontrunners putt ed slowly
enough for the stragglers to catch up, in order to keep the group
In typical over-reaction fashion, three State
Police squad cars bore down on the group at high speed, actually
brushing against some of the cyclists. The bikers were instructed to
move on, as the police directed the cycle traffic on one side and the
automobile traffic on the other, into con verging paths, as the wide
toll plaza narrowed back into three lanes.
Quick thinking protest leaders directed the
bikers to a service area, a short distance away, so that the bulk of
them could regroup.
After refueling, the group leaders requested
the State Police to assist them in re-entering the turnpike, but the
requests were denied. The pro testers massed onto the highway as best
they could, but the flow of traffic was disrupted and a tie-up ensued.
The State Police sped through the ranks of bikers, running many off the
highway in the process, and were waiting for them at the next toll
The police instructed them to pay the toll and
to exit at the next off- ramp. Complaining that they had every right to
ride on the turnpike, the bikers refused verbally. Tree, an officer in
the Huns was cited on the spot for “reckless use of a highway.” The
citation normally only merits a ticket, but Tree was handcuffed and
forceably thrown into a waiting squad car. By now many of the bikers
were standing around the car which plowed through the crowd without
regard for life or limb, in an effort to leave with the prisoner.
A girl was struck and hurled onto the hood of
the squad car. Two troopers grabbed her and threw her to the ground so
that the squad car could proceed. She was relatively un injured when
struck by the car, but her treatment at the hands of the police required
first aid at a nearby hospital.
The cyclists disbanded, and continued toward
Danbury fairgrounds, their original destination. Again the State Police
raced through and around the pack, now joined by many additional units.
A quarter-mile up the road the police forced the cyclists to the
shoulder and halted the group for the final time.
In the meantime, Tree was released and
abandoned on the shoulder of the turnpike some ten miles distant.
At this time, the police began disbursing the
protesters in small groups, until only about 300 remained. The remainder
received tickets until the 20 or 30 officers exhausted their sup ply. In
all there were six arrests, including your reporter. Although I had
previously obtained permission to shoot photographs from one of his
superiors, officer Timmeny felt that I would be less dangerous in the
All accessible film was confiscated, but
luckily I was able to pass mine to an ally, and it was spared.
Unfortunately, I was not able to photograph the final events of the run
due to my temporary incarceration.
The fiasco culminated in wide local newspaper
and TV coverage, which served to further publicize the plight of the
Connecticut biker. Public expenses will soar as those ticketed plead not
guilty and demand jury trials. Additional expenditures caused by the
police action can only infuriate taxpayers who are already clamoring for
a lower budget. As the police and legislators now know, their problems
can only be eliminated by not enforcing or repealing the helmet law.
Another drama is unfolding in the town of
Milford. Approximately 100 bikers there are awaiting jury trials after
turning in not-guilty pleas. The Milford trials have been organized by
another Hun, Bill Malone (Billy Putt). He has been instrumental in
informing alleged helmet law violators of their rights and procedures in
obtaining a trial by jury. Ironically, the first court appearance date
found five of the accused late. They were detained enroute because the
police again cited them for not wearing helmets.
Billy explained that the law was not enforced
until 1 974 because of a technicality. “This time,” he said, “we want it
killed on Constitutional grounds.”
Attorney Burton Weinstein has been retained;
he will represent 30 of the accused. As of this writing, the first test
case has begun. Mr. Wein stein is contending that “the state statute is
an unconstitutional extension of the state’s police power; that the
arbitrary, capricious and discriminatory pattern of enforcement of the
statute allegedly violated denies the defendants equal protection of the
law; and that the regulation allegedly violated was never properly
Weinstein also stated that “the Constitution
grants an individual a ‘zone of privacy’ in which it is the right of the
individual to conduct his own affairs as he or she chooses as long as it
doesn’t injure or offend other members of society. Therefore, it is an
invasion of privacy for the government to decree that a helmet must be
worn, since not wearing one would only cause harm to the individual who
chooses not to wear one.”
“If you can make a law to protect people from
themselves, what is there to prevent making it a crime for a woman not
to have a check for breast cancer?” he asked.
Well chosen words, perhaps, since the Circuit
Judge hearing the cases is a woman, Judge Ellen Burns.
The Defense Attorney refers to the fourteenth
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which, in part, states: No state
shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or
immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive
any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,
nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of
Connecticut is nicknamed “The Constitution
State,” which seems a likely setting for such a trial.
Mr. Weinstein issued a subpoena to Connecticut
Motor Vehicle Com missioner Edward J. Kozlowski, but in expected
bureaucratic behavior, Mr. Kozlowski was out of town at the time of the
session, and his aides were unavailable.
If Burton Weinstein is successful in
establishing the unconstitutionality of the law, a precedent will be
set, as an aid to future court trials; not only in Connecticut, but
throughout the United States. If, on the other hand, the accused is
found guilty, at least 99 other alleged helmet law violators are
standing by, ready for the time consuming and costly jury trials.
Billy Malone has not had an easy time
convincing ticketed bikers to plead not-guilty. The fine for a cop-out
plea is only five or ten dollars, while those found guilty by a jury
must cough-up 75 to 100 dollars. Mr. Weinstein is also working on that
in equitable situation, as no one should be punished for exercising his
right to a jury trial. It is taking a lot of hard work and sacrifice,
but it is very likely that Connecticut bikers will eventually be
victorious. Other states (among them, New York, Pennsylvania,
Massachusetts, and New Jersey) and Canada now have similar protests in
effect, all patterned after Connecticut’s efforts.
Pappy Pittsley, in organizing the CMA, has
given weight by numbers to the bikers’ complaints. He issues a well
written periodic newsletter to CMA members, advising them of the
up-to-the-minute status of the struggle, as well as encouraging them to
participate in an organized manner.
Rogue Herlihy, Huns M/C Prexy, works in close
alliance with Huns and other club members around the country, riders who
form the back bone and spearhead of massed pro tests, as well as
attending to a thou sand details such as CMA fund raising raffles and
clean-up duties after pro test demonstrations.
Billy Malone, in organizing the Milford trials
has had to actually change his life-style. Billy was a free-and-easy
type dude who had no use for a telephone until his program began.
Summing it up, the Connecticut protest
contains certain key elements which are contributing in one way or
another to bring about repeal. All of the elements mesh in the overall
scheme, and all are equally important. They are:
1. The formation of the CMA, which functions
as liaison, between bikers and legislators; and also serves to organize
2. A constant barrage of intelligent letters
from all over the state, to legislators, newspapers, and magazines,
presenting the bikers’ side of the argument.
3. The understanding and support of several
4. Meeting with election candidates to obtain
their views on the subject, followed by the full support of candidates
in agreement with repeal.
5. The intelligent use of the vote, and a
concentrated effort to get all bikers registered.
6. Exercising the right to plead not guilty,
and to a trial by jury; regardless of the personal sacrifice.
7. Total participation in peaceful protest
8. Obtaining a capable lawyer.
9. Total dedication to the cause.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees, if not
encourages, every citizen’s right to protest grievances in the manner
used by bikers from Connecticut. As citizens of a free country, it is
our duty to legally fight for what we think is right. Our country was
not founded by, or for those, who accept unjust treatment without
It takes dedicated leaders to be successful
and it takes a lot of unsung heroes like the CMA and Huns members to
apply necessary pressure each and every time it is needed, If
Connecticut repeals the helmet law, it is because it was earned by a lot
of dedicated, deserving, energetic, and righteous people. CC