Underneath lately handed laws,police stings just like the one at this northwest Atlanta Kroger in late February mightend in increased penalties for folks arrested on road racing-related prices. However critics query whether or not the brand new statewide measure will curtail the criminality, and fear it’s going to disproportionately goal folks of shade.
State lawmakers handed the road racing invoice on the finish of this 12 months’s legislative session, with bipartisan help within the Home and Senate. It additionally has the endorsement of Gov. Brian Kemp, who publicly backed the invoice throughout a February press convention, although he has notmentioned when hewould possibly signal it into legislation. The governor’s workplace mentioned Wednesday it’s reviewing the invoice.
The brand new measure follows makes an attempt by police departments and metropolis governments in metro Atlanta to crack down on “road racing,” a catch-all time period that includes harmful driving in parking heaps or on roads, or doing stunts in entrance of a cheering crowd. Authorities say the exercise, which noticed an uptick in 2020 because the pandemic emptied parking heaps and streets,endangers drivers and pedestrians and the noise is a nuisance for close by residents.
The measure, House Bill 534, permits authorities to droop the licenses of some violators for as much as a 12 months and requires penalties as excessive as $5,000. It creates the offense of “reckless stunt driving” and permits authorities to grab automobiles which might be concerned. Repeat offenders could possibly be charged with a felony and face extra jail time.
A automobile is impounded within the metropolis of South Fulton following what authorities mentioned was a road racing bust.
“What it does is it actually targets the people who find themselves immune to stopping,” Atlanta interim police Chief Rodney Bryant mentioned in regards to the new legislation. “I feel that it is going to be very useful in deterring this sort of exercise.”
Atlanta is one among a number of cities throughout metro Atlanta which have handed legal guidelines to extend penalties for road racing, although the brand new state legislation will seemingly supersede lots of the native ordinances. The Atlanta Metropolis Council handed a measure in August that levied fines of as much as $1,000 in opposition to individuals who attend to look at a road racing-related occasion, even when they’re not in a automobile. Atlanta additionally requires folks arrested for road racing to see a choose before they can be released on bond, normally inside 24 to 48 hours of their arrest.
Police departments have additionally poured extra sources into enforcement, as evidenced by Atlanta’s deployment of a police helicopter to trace suspected road racers. Some latest stings have gone a lot additional. In Clayton County, authorities arrested 102 folks in mid-March after getting stories that automobiles had been doing doughnuts in a Sam’s Membership parking zone. A couple of quarter of these arrested had been juveniles, some as young as 11.
Critics of the state’s new invoice embrace civil rights advocates and people in Atlanta’s automobile scene. They’re skeptical new legal guidelines shall be efficient in truly stopping folks from road racing and fear enhanced punishmentswill solely result in extra younger auto fans having legal information.
“I don’t suppose it’s going to deter folks,” mentioned Devin Barrington-Ward, an ally of the “automobile fanatic” neighborhood in Atlanta. “It’s a revolving door and nothing has modified.”
He acknowledged laying drag or racing on public streets could be harmful, however mentioned meetups amongst automobile followers largely contain folks parked in so much and displaying off their rides. He worries in regards to the potential unintended penalties if police crack down on such occasions, the place Barrington-Ward mentioned reckless, unsafe driving is comparatively uncommon.
“It’s additionally a difficulty of race,” mentioned Barrington-Ward, an Atlanta resident and the founding father of the Black Futurists Group,a social justice group. “We all know the vast majority of those that are within the automobile fanatic neighborhood are Black and brown.”
An Atlanta Journal-Structure evaluation of Atlanta police knowledge reveals how the division has ramped up enforcement during the last 5 months. It additionally suggests the exercise has not died down following the winter months — even after the Atlanta Metropolis Council heightened penalties.
Road racing enforcement in Atlanta
The variety of road racing-related visitors stops, citations, arrests and impounds each weekend for the final 5 months in Atlanta
Supply: Atlanta Police Division
The variety of road racing citations and arrests elevated in late February into March; over one three-day span in early March, the weekend Atlanta hosted the NBA All-Star Sport, Atlanta police made 36 road racing-related arrests and issued over 300 citations.
The brand new legislation can be just like Georgia’s DUI statutes and consists of punishments for anybody who “promotes or organizes” drag racing occasions, mentioned state Sen. Emanuel Jones, a Democrat whose district consists of elements of DeKalb and Henry counties. The invoice doesn’t embrace penalties for merely watching a drag racing occasion.
“The invoice units up not simply the takedown of these which might be racing, however can also be set as much as take down the group as effectively,” Jones mentioned,including that he’s hopeful the automobile seizure and license suspension provisions shall be efficient in stopping repeat offenders.
In Midtown Atlanta, Courtney Smith has grown pissed off by the noise and potential hazard posed by road racing. The president of the Midtown Neighbors’ Affiliation, she welcomes the passage of the statewide invoice however urged courts to pursue the upgraded punishments.
“The police can cite offenders all day lengthy,” Smith mentioned, “however till guilt is confirmed and punishment is utilized to the crime, there is no such thing as a deterrent.”
However advocates like Barrington-Ward and Marissa Dodson, the general public coverage director on the Southern Heart for Human Rights, have urged lawmakers to work with automobile fans as a substitute of simply ramping up enforcement. They fear seizing automobiles could possibly be dangerous to these arrested and their households, and have instructed metro Atlanta governments discover methods to permit drivers to collect and do stunts legally and safely.
That might include its personal authorized and logistical points, although comparable applications have been instituted across the nation. Police departments from Florida to California have hosted occasions through which the general public can race officers on a drag strip. And police within the Detroit space have shut down a portion of a road for a popular legal street racing event yearly.
“Being as punitive and harsh as you’ll be able to doesn’t truly assist the scenario,” Dodson mentioned, “as a result of the problems are a lot deeper than that.”