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I Went to the Laughlin River Run & Didn’t Get Shot

By Robert Sweeney Photos by Pete Alva

And neither did anyone else there. Yet, for days leading up to the event, all during the event and for days after the event, the so-called “news” media kept reminding everyone that 5 years ago there was a deadly shootout between rival outlaw motorcycle clubs in one of the casinos in Laughlin, which, as we all know, took place during the River Run

5 years ago. As in, “The Past.” As in, “Over.” As in, “Done With.”

Yet the media continues to bring up the subject every year, including endless reruns of the lurid surveillance videos. How exactly is a 5-year old crime that has already been tried in court “news?” Please explain that one to us all, Mr. “News” Director.

Now, I live in Las Vegas and naturally our local “news” teams concentrate more heavily on what’s going on in and around Clark County and the State of Nevada, so it may be true that we get more reports about Laughlin than do those in California, for example. Maybe the rest of America doesn’t get continuous reports from the River Run all weekend long like we do, but I’d be willing to make book on it that wherever the media does report on the biker gathering in Laughlin, no matter how brief the report, there will be a mention of the shooting that took place FIVE YEARS AGO.

Oh, but the shooting isn’t all we hear about, we also get a running account of how many traffic violations and felony arrests are made in Laughlin during the course of the Run. And the media also loves to ceaselessly point out the number of extra police needed (from 3 states, mind you!), just to keep order (mostly by issuing hundreds of traffic tickets, which is a known deterrent to violent crime, by the way).

As many of you may know, Las Vegas is a town whose economy is based almost solely on tourism, which means that the city hosts events of all kinds, both large and small, year ‘round. And yet, somehow the “news” media doesn’t feel compelled to give running accounts of the number of traffic violators ticketed during the annual rodeo, or when tens of thousands of NASCAR fans roll into town. But when Vegas’ own biker rally, Bikefest, takes place each September, you can bet that not only will we hear about each and every disorderly conduct arrest, we will also be reminded that there was a SHOOTING INVOLVING BIKERS IN LAUGHLIN IN 2002. Emphasis theirs.

Now here’s a little irony for you; shootings in and around casinos and “Gentlemen’s Clubs” are not that rare a commodity here in Vegas. Yes, the media gives ample coverage to them (after all, their motto is “If it bleeds, it leads”), but when the casino or club later hosts a newsworthy event of some kind, we generally don’t get reminded of the shooting that happened there several years in the past. But then, those shootings usually involve drug addicts or members of street gangs or known felons, not really scary people, like those of us who ride motorcycles.

Another irony for you: When the River Run has ended, the media, after again reminding us of the 2002 shooting, will gleefully report the estimated number of dollars the Run will have brought into the local economy. This, of course, is what makes it all acceptable, even if there was a shooting in one of the casinos back in ’02 (have you heard about that?). They are always happy to take our money, even as they paint a picture of us as scary, even violent, people.

Now let me tell you about some of the scary violence Monika and I participated in at Laughlin. We rode down on Saturday morning with no real plans except to have lunch and ride home again. Frankly, we are not into massive crowds and traffic jams, so we went mainly to say we’d been. As we were cruisin’ the Bullhead side of the river looking for an uncrowded place to stop and eat, I noticed a homemade sign at the side of the road inviting folks to a “bike blessing.” Cool. I made the turn and Monika followed. We found ourselves at a revival tent put up by a local Baptist church and manned by some of our friends from Church in the Wind, Las Vegas. Now, I have a confession to make here; since we attend Church in the Wind, we knew they would be in Laughlin practicing their biker ministry, but since we hadn’t planned to join them, I never made note of where they would be. Finding them was just pure… divine intervention?

We had our bikes blessed, enjoyed a free lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers (a free lunch is always a blessing in itself ) and hung out and made conversation for a few hours under the shade of the tent. Bikers rolled in for their blessing, some staying for lunch and fellowship, others rolling back out to the boulevard and on to whatever lay down the road. The ministry team later took off to go hand out tracts and minister to people around the vendor areas. Later, there would be a service under the tent and people would be told about love and forgiveness. Hands would be extended in friendship and prayers would be made for healing.

Somehow, I doubt you saw any of that on the nightly “news.” They wouldn’t report that kind of stuff, even if somebody did get “slain in the spirit.” After all, the only blood shed was that of Jesus, and that was over 2,000 years ago. And yet, I can imagine that 2,000 years from now, if thousands of bikers are still riding their fusion-powered hovercycles to Laughlin each April, the “news” media will still be reminding everyone of the shooting that took place back in 2002. Whadaya wanna bet?

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