Brown said many people still seem to associate bikers with the anti-social crowd of "The Wild Ones," a Marlon Brando movie based on a real-life incident in which bikers terrorized the town of Hollister, Calif. Yet, Brown said that a recent film, "Mask"--in which bikers accept a severely deformed boy into their clan--gives a truer picture of the nature of most bikers.
Hana Brown, 32, said she feels more at ease letting her children Aaron, 7, and Lauren, 3, run around at a bikers' gathering than at their neighborhood park.
When Russ Brown began a small personal injury law practice, biker acquaintances started telling him tales about motorists being let off with minimum sentences after maiming or killing bikers through negligence, or even intentionally.
'I Didn't See Him'
The case that eventually inspired Brown to form BAM in 1982 involved a woman in her early 20s with three children. Her husband was killed by a drunken motorist who said: "I didn't see him (the motorcycle rider)." The motorist received summary probation.
Brown concluded that the attitude toward bikers involved in highway incidents is somewhat like that toward rape victims: They must have done something to provoke the attack/accident.
For those bikers involved in accidents that land them in court, Bikers Against Manslaughter is there to ensure that prejudice against bikers doesn't weigh the case in favor of the automobile driver.
Brown's own practice consists almost entirely of personal injury cases involving motorcyclists. If his client looks the part of a renegade biker, Brown may insist that he remove his earring and get a haircut before appearing in court, so that a jury's biases aren't triggered.
Because of his line of work, Brown said he has an exaggerated awareness of the ways a motorcyclist can get him or herself hurt or killed, so he is a much more cautious rider than he was in the days when he rode with the Santa Maria Owls, a cigarette pack bulging in his T-shirt sleeve. He still splits traffic lanes sometimes on his commute to the BAM office from his home in the valley, but never at high speeds. He's had to lay the bike down a few times to avoid an accident, and has suffered minor injuries, but he's never been involved in a motorcycle-auto collision.
He travels to rallies around the country on his Harley Davidson, spreading word of Bikers Against Manslaughter. Often his wife and two children go with him.
The feedback so far suggests that Brown's efforts are appreciated:
A 67-year-old man from East Meadow, N.Y., wrote to BAM saying that his wife is relieved because now that he's a BAM member, there'll always be someone nearby to help him when he goes off on weeklong solo motorcycle tours.
And a woman named Sam who owns a Harley Davidson parts and service shop in East Haven, Conn., wrote suggesting that BAM may be destined to become the bikers' equivalent of AAA.