In any given month, any given season and any given year, there is enough crime to keep our law enforcement officials busy. It’s horrible when people plan and plot to do bad things, including violent crimes. We really don’t need dangerous activities that put lives at risk.
But for stunt driving in our cities?
In recent weeks, we have had several car stunts including doughnuts, burnouts and other high-speed moves in parts of Louisiana, especially Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
The drivers, riders and watchers are putting themselves in danger as they put innocent bystanders in danger. Because some of this activity has happened on neighborhood streets, unsuspecting residents have been surprised to see crowds gather for a “show” they did not know had been scheduled a few steps from their homes.
In New Orleans, Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said earlier last week that there were four different city locations with stunt driving activities.
He said there were indications that the people who organized one or more of these events were some of the same people who coordinated similar performances in our state’s capital city. Based on a number of social media posts, that seems to be true.
Some New Orleans residents were outraged by videos showing participants disrespect a police officer by jumping on a patrol vehicle as the officer appeared to try to break up one gathering.
That disappoints us, too.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul and his officers were aggressive when they faced similar disruptions on the capital city's streets. Some participants were arrested. Investigations are ongoing. When asked about the New Orleans incidents at a Baton Rouge Press Club event, Paul said, “Are we pushing them out to other areas because of our enforcement actions, I don’t know.”
Mayor LaToya Cantrell reiterated her support for Ferguson, her appointee as chief. But there is no question that the images of hooligans climbing over police vehicles is more than what they called in the 1960s "a happening." This reflects a society out of control, not just because of disorder in the streets. It is young people out of control of their own impulses, putting themselves and others in danger.
For decades, police authorities have warned of the "broken windows" effect: A block, a neighborhood or a city that is in disorder and has the visible signs of decay and neglect. Are not car stunts an outward and visible sign of a coarsening and more dangerous society?
Though car stunt issues are happening far beyond Louisiana borders, we can look at what other communities have done and enforce laws, or pass new ones, to deter these illegal street gatherings.
Officials in other communities have considered significantly higher fines, seizing vehicles and serious prison time. In Georgia, for instance, a law enacted last year requires at least 10 days in jail after a conviction; police can seize a vehicle owned by someone convicted three times within five years. The law even addresses doing car stunts on private property, something that might include business parking lots.
We encourage mayors, police chiefs and legislative bodies to show those leading or participating in these activities that they will not be tolerated. We were pleased to see arrest warrants issued for five people, adults and juveniles, in New Orleans. They'll face charges of aggravated obstruction of a highway in commerce, and that could get them sentences of up to 15 years.
We hope they and others who were at these events get the message that action is a high priority, and such behavior will not be tolerated.