In our investigation into what's behind that group of riders - who they are and why they're out there - we met Arthur Pettus Jr., a father of four and man on a mission. His hope: to find a way to allow those riders to do their thing, safely and legally.
One of Pettus' sons, Arthur Pettus III, died two years ago on a motorcycle he'd recently bought when he became part of the group. Even with that hard history, though, Pettus said he supports the riders and the group largely behind the movement: Bikes Up, Guns Down.
"He came to me one day after he got his bike," Pettus explained, "and said, 'Dad, I'm part of this group that rides dirt bikes on city streets.' And I said, 'Man, that ain't safe.' I said, 'Why are you doing that?' And he said, 'Dad, we're trying to get word out to the younger people so they will have the bikes up, and guns down. I seen his whole demeanor change. It was giving him another outlook on life, this bike riding thing. He said, 'Dad, we got a message, we're trying to put it out, and this is the only way, it seems, that we can get the young people involved to hear this message."
That message is embedded in the name of the group. Bikes up (think wheelies), guns down.
"The people around here today," Pettus said, "only thing they see is people being a menace in the streets. But they've got something to say and there ain't no one taking the time to listen. They're just looking at all the negatives instead of looking at any of the positives."
Pettus hopes to broker a relationship between the city, police and the group of people out riding under the banner of "Bikes Up, Guns Down." It's a conversation Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield says he wants to have. "We know it's a problem. If they want to bring ideas, I'd be happy to sit down with them," Bonfield told the I-Team.
Pettus said knows what he'll tell Bonfield. "Look, today the boys are out riding. We're going to give them the right of way on this road right here. We'll let them do their stunts and then, when it's over, it's over. You know, plan things for them to do this instead of just saying, 'They're menaces.'"
"I was thinking about taking on some responsibility myself," Pettus continued. "You know, if I could help a kid get a helmet, I would." His son wasn't wearing a helmet when he crashed and for Pettus, it has become a critical part of the conversation. "You know, I'll furnish the hot dogs and stuff and have a cookout for them and people donate money an we buy helmets for them. All I'm saying is, I want them to be safe. All these kids out riding these bikes, they're somebody's son; they're somebody's brother. And they love their kids. I love them. I don't know half of them but the ones that I do know are responsible people."
Another of Pettus' sons, Antonio, said he still rides with Bikes Up, Guns Down. Standing next to his father, just behind his brother's memorial, he remarked, "We're doing a positive thing right here. You know, it's all about how you see it. If you see it as something wrong, you're looking at it wrong. If you see it as something positive, you're looking at it right. We're trying to get kids out of the street. We're trying to bring them together. Different people from different sides of the city. A lot of people from different neighborhoods could end up clashing with each other and we're trying to bring them together."
We wanted to know if it was working.
"Yes, it's working," he said, "People from all over different sides of town, getting together and riding bikes. It's not a gang, period. This right is just a group of people that's trying to bring people together."
"They're out here with something to say," his father, Pettus Jr. said. "And we, as adults, need to take time out to hear what they are saying. I've got children. All of them are different. I had to talk to them all differently. So these kids out here on these bikes, they're putting out a message and we're failing to listen. Communication is the key. And the problem will be solved I think."