'12 O'Clock Boys' Explores Baltimore's Rebel Dirt Bike Pack's Allure, Motivation

PHOTO: A still from the documentary 12 OClock Boys.
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In the blighted neighborhoods of inner city Baltimore, lined with abandoned buildings and broken down cars, the loud, rhythmic, menacing choir of dirt bikes and four-wheelers can be heard cutting through the silence.

Ranging in age from teenage boys to men in their 30s, the large pack of illegal dirt bike riders race, weave and perform acrobatics at high speeds through the streets with almost celebrity stature. They are known as the 12 O'Clock Boys and people line the sidewalks with their smartphones and iPads to take in their spectacle.

To some, the ride together is a street sermon of sorts, a Sunday ritual.

To the Baltimore police and to many city residents, the bikers are a public safety hazard, who can seem intimidating as they perform stunts in traffic.

But to a 12-year-old boy, who calls West Baltimore home, being a part of this urban dirt-biker pack would be a dream come true. Born Taekwon Ford, friends and family call him "Pug."

"When I ride, I feel powerful. I feel like a super hero," Pug said. "It feels like, you know, on top of the world."

The 12 O'Clock Boys' name comes from the group's trademark maneuver: speeding down the street with the front wheel of their bike pointing straight up, like the hands on the clock.

The 12 O'Clock Boys are the subject of a new controversial film by the same name that came out last month. The film explores the attraction and motivation behind the urban dirt biker group through the eyes of Pug and a few older members.

The film follows Pug for three years, from a precocious 12-year-old on the shy side of puberty to an edgy, often angry, teenager, hardened by circumstance. It details Pug's primary aspiration in life, which is to become a 12 O'Clock Boy.

When asked why, he told "Nightline," "It's fun."

"You're seeing people's faces, they be so excited to see you," he said. "It just be amazing."

The film's director Lotfy Nathan was a college student from Great Britain studying at an art school in Baltimore when he started following the Baltimore dirt biker group as a class project.

The 12 O'Clock Boys have been described as many things -- a fearless pack, a gang, a menace, troublemakers –- but according to Nathan, they are not only "rebels," but also "mentors" and "children."

"Right outside of [Pug's] door in West Baltimore, there was drug dealers, there's violence all the time. He would see these dealers waving cash in front of them and they seemed like the most successful people on the block," Nathan said. "It's seductive from a young age. So that's why I kind of shy away from calling [the 12 O'Clock Boys] a gang, from calling them menaces. As problematic as it is, it's still kind of lesser of evils."

Nathan said he understands the conflict between the 12 O'Clock Boys and the rest of the city, but he sees how the group can have a positive impact on someone like Pug.

"It's not necessarily the right kind of out, but it is an out for a lot of kids in Baltimore," Nathan said. "It's actually a kind of edification for a lot of kids in Baltimore. It's kind of like Boy Scouts or something in the context of what gangs can really be in Baltimore and what violence can really be and what can be."

For its size -- Baltimore City as a population of roughly 621,000 -- Baltimore is one of the most violent crime and drug ridden cities in the country. There have been 28 homicides so far this year.

Pug said he has gotten used to seeing people walking around with guns, and has seen people get shot and stabbed on the street, but he doesn't pay attention to violent gangs.

"You gotta be careful out there, people get shot, sometimes for no reason, just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time," Pug said.

To him, the 12 O'Clock Boys are his role models and mentors.

"They taught me to stay in school, do all my work, pass my classes. They just taught me to focus on school, don't worry about bikes all the time," he said.

Pug said he wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up. He is bright and ambitious enough, but the road out of these rough Baltimore streets is lined with more obstacles that even the most skilled 12 O'Clock Boy could maneuver.

"He's a really smart kid, and I think he's pretty resourceful too, so I would hope that he would put it all into school, if he can. That's what I always tried to tell him," Nathan said. But "there's no easy out."

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