Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

At the Florida State Fair, a distinction between gangs, bikers

It's a lesson taught in grade school: Don't judge a book by its cover.

Sometimes applying that maxim gets more difficult in a world that seemingly grows more dangerous by the day.

Just ask the Florida State Fair Authority or the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Eager to curb outbreaks of fighting and gang-related skirmishes at the fair, the authority banned any display of "colors" or "gang symbols" in 2010. Enforcement fell to the Sheriff's Office.

If anyone arrived at the gates wearing colors, such as a bandanna or the same style or type of clothing, they would be given the option to remove the objectionable clothing or be turned away.

It seems fair, pun intended.

But the blanket rule covered motorcycle clubs. They tried to attend wearing jackets bearing their club patches and emblems, and were turned away. Attorney Jerry Theophilopoulos cried foul, saying the bikers shouldn't be lumped in with gangs.

Yes, some of the bikers in the group belonged to the once notorious Outlaws. But the other riders hailed from clubs such as the Spirit Riders Motorcycle Ministry and New Attitude, a group of clean and sober riders.

"Every organization, no matter who you are, is going to have someone in it who committed a crime," Theophilopoulos said. "But that doesn't mean the crime was sanctioned by the club."

Also among the approximately 100 riders turned away in 2010: the Military Veterans Motorcycle Club.

"These are people who fought so anyone in America could wear what they wanted to wear on their jackets or on their sleeves," Theophilopoulos said. "It was inexcusable to do that to those people."

The fair turned the bikers away again in 2011 and 2012, according to Theophilopoulos. After that, Theophilopoulos sued on behalf of five people in the group. It appears the action influenced the outlook. According to the Sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon, the authority changed the policy this year.

In years past, a sign at the entrances stated in bright red letters: "No club colors."

This year, that designation was gone, replaced with a lengthier qualifier:

The Florida State Fair reserves the right to refuse admittance or remove any person who is disruptive, or displays behavior that is associated with criminal gang membership.

So last Sunday, a group of male and female bikers from various clubs — including the Outlaws and the Spirit Riders — met up at Ker's Wing House across from the fairgrounds. They gathered at the fair entrance and said a prayer. Then they thanked the men and women who fought for our country.

"It was really touching," Theophilopoulos, who noted that some in the group left for another commitment but others stayed and enjoyed the fair.

"All the ladies and gentlemen enjoyed themselves," Theophilopoulos said. "We just wanted to get in. It was time to let us in."

Theophilopoulos said he would continue to pursue legal action so it would never happen again. From a legal perspective, he said it was a must. I'm not so sure. I think the Sheriff's Office and the fair authority deserve credit for crafting a compromise.

All involved appear to have developed a heightened perspective of bikers and motorcycle clubs. Perhaps, we all can learn, again, not to judge a book by its cover.

Hopefully, the authority and the Sheriff's Office can continue to keep the peace at the fair.

Hopefully, the bikers can continue to be the peace at the fair.

That's all I'm saying.

At the Florida State Fair, a distinction between gangs, bikers

02/21/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 3:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Unemployed with a pre-existing condition, Republican David Jolly came to see Obamacare as 'safety net'


    Former Congressman David Jolly, who ran against Obamacare in 2013, said in an interview Monday night that he now considers it a "safety net."

  2. Five children hospitalized after chlorine release at Tampa pool store


    Five children were sickened at a pool store north of Tampa on Monday after a cloud of chlorine was released, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

  3. Deputies find unidentified decomposing body in Dunedin canal

    Public Safety

    DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff's deputies found an unidentified male body floating in a Dunedin canal Monday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office said.

  4. Rays acquire slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from Marlins

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chaim Bloom said the Rays weren't necessarily in the market for a shortstop. The team has a number of those. But when the Marlins recently began shopping Adeiny Hechavarria, well, that was too much to pass up.

    Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as one of baseball’s top defensive shortstops in the past three seasons with the Marlins.
  5. Lightning journal: Forward Yanni Gourde agrees to two-year deal

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fighting to stay in pro hockey.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA108