After listening to seven hours of public comment, the Atlanta City Council voted Nov. 2 to approve an ordinance to jail street racing offenders before an arraignment hearing in Atlanta Municipal Court.
The ordinance declares street racing and riding of all-terrain vehicles on city streets as a form of “violence,” which would require an arraignment hearing before a judge. The city’s current law allows Municipal Court defendants accused of non-violent traffic offenses to be released on their own recognizance before trial. The ordinance describes such offenses as street racing, reckless driving and the use of ATVs and off-road vehicles on city streets as “containing an element of violence or threatened violence” due to dangers to people or property.
While awaiting the city council’s vote on the policy, the Municipal Court had already issued a temporary order requiring street racing offenders to appear before a judge before bonding out.
The late-night vote came on the heels of hundreds of residents pleading with the council to do something to stop street racing.
Street racing has become a major issue across the city this year and helped to spark the local idea of a private police force dubbed “Buckhead Blue.” Earlier this year, the council passed another ordinance that aims to crack down on street racing, but provisions that threatened the jailing of spectators or the impounding of cars until trial were thrown out or deemed unenforceable by city attorneys due to conflicts with constitutional rights and state law.
In the Nov. 2 meeting, Many callers were from Buckhead and surrounding neighborhoods and said the noise was affecting their sleep, safety, and quality of life.
There were also many impassioned callers urging the council to vote no, stating that the ordinance would undermine the city’s bail reform. The city eliminated cash bonds for low-level offenders in 2018.
Councilmember Michael Julian Bond said activists had misled the public about the nature of the ordinance. “This is not an attempt to change bail reform in any way,” Bond said.
The ordinance is designed to identify repeat offenders and give judges latitude during arraignments. It’s also meant to be a deterrent.
Councilmember Joyce Sheperd said the court had turned into a “revolving door” and street racing offenders were not being held accountable.
Sheperd also dismissed criticism that the council was only responding to white, wealthy Buckhead residents. “Street racing isn’t just happening in a certain part of the city,” she said. “It’s happening everywhere, including my community.”
“There are still laws that have to be abided by whatever color you are,” Sheperd said. “Street racing is against the law. It is harmful to folks in our community. I’ve witnessed it myself.”
Councilmember Antonio Brown said while he did not condone street racing, he said the council should also consider the perspective of the “car enthusiasts.” Brown said he had sat down with those involved in street racing and has floated the idea of creating a city park for them to perform stunts and races.
“Many of those involved are Atlanta residents and taxpayers,” Brown said. “They just happen to have a hobby and passion for street racing. They don’t condone illegal activity.”
Brown then suggested – without elaboration or substantiation – that the number of street racing incidents were being inflated by residents and perhaps the media. “I don’t think there are as many incidents as being portrayed,” Brown said. “APD data has shown that.”
On the contrary, the Atlanta Police Department has charged hundreds of people with street racing offenses. Just this past weekend alone, APD made 144 traffic stops, issued 156 citations, made 8 arrests and impounded 6 cars as part of an ongoing crackdown on street racing.
“If we think further penalizing individuals is going to stop street racing, we are sadly mistaken and completely disconnected from the issue at hand,” Brown said. “It’s not going to stop it from happening.”
Sheperd said the city was not going to build a park for people to race in and that she wasn’t interested in negotiating with people who broke the law. “They are going to to take over our streets because they don’t have any place to race? It reminds me of my kids when they are having a temper tantrum.”
Before the vote, Brown demanded that a member of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration come online and state its position on the issue. No one did.
After the ordinance was approved, Bond moved that the legislation be moved “posthaste” to the mayor’s desk for her signature. The motion was approved.