Roaring engines, silent politicians

David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 26, 2012

I'D LIKE TO THANK the Daily News for its recent series bringing attention to the issue of illegal ATVs and dirt bikes, which have replaced graffiti as the major blight of lower-income neighborhoods.

Why spend the time and money tagging up a wall? You don't know who will see it, and it'll probably get removed in a few days anyway. But roaring down the street, scaring children and setting off car alarms on an ATV or dirt bike gives immediate recognition. Plus, it has the added assurance that you won't get caught.

"Inside Philadelphia's dirt bike, ATV subculture" (Daily News, May 30) attempts to have us sympathize with these riders. They just want to "have fun," and they view themselves as "family." The article fails to point out, though, that these riders have a broken relationship with their community. They don't care that the ear-splitting noise from their bikes causes pain to bystanders. They don't care that their wheels destroy the parks that our kids are supposed to play in. They don't care about stop signs or speed limits.

It's nice that they're having fun, but they're intentionally ignoring the thousands of kids that can't have fun at parks and in their own alleys because of them. It's good that they treat each other like "family," but they don't care about the families that have to close their windows and turn up the sound just to be able to watch TV in their own homes. Part of living in a community is realizing that you have a basic obligation to people you've never met. The article even mentions that they're thinking about starting some charity work. That's as laughable as the Philadelphia Parking Authority holding a charity ball. Charity that's disconnected from your community isn't charity; it's a lame attempt at public relations.

Although the recently announced hearings are a step in the right direction, for years City Council and our mayor haven't lifted a finger to work on this problem. I think that's mostly because they don't live in neighborhoods where this is a problem. They don't have two small children (like I do) who regularly get woken up inside our home by these things roaring past in the street. Maybe they've never had the privilege of seeing an alley full of little kids scatter in fear as an ATV speeds through it.

Every ATV and dirt bike is a screaming reminder that the police, city government and good neighbors have no control here. It creates an environment in our communities that loudly assures criminals they can get away with anything, and it displays to residents that the police are powerless to stop them. In a city with a soaring murder rate, young men get to practice both ignoring laws and running from the police. Somehow, we have to figure out a way to communicate to our politicians that this issue is more than a nuisance — it's making our neighborhoods almost unlivable. Raising property taxes, planting trees and taxing sodas won't do anything for our city if no one wants to live here.

The solutions may not be quick or easy, but that doesn't mean they're impossible. Figure out a way to ban the sale of these vehicles in the city. Change the laws to make it easier for police to seize them. Commission some well-crafted commercials or public-service announcements that talk about how unsafe, uncaring and unacceptable it is to ride these bikes in the city. Implement the new laws with an ATV/dirt bike buy-back that gives people one last chance to turn in their bikes for a little cash. Find the money for the Police Department to buy their own vehicles that can follow and intimidate these illegal riders. Give the police overtime on warm afternoons in the spring and summer to go out and get these bikes off the street. These are just a few ideas. I'm certainly no expert, but I'm just making the point that there's plenty that can be done if our City Council and mayor want to work on this issue. Let's start a new conversation.

The Rev. Derick Scudder is a longtime resident of Juniata Park, pastor at Bethel Chapel Church, president of Juniata Action Committee, and chaplain and community advisory council member for the 24th Police District.

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