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Flint, MI– The Flint City Council postponed voting on two proposed ordinances related to drag racing and loitering, following public hearings on Aug. 9.
Most residents who spoke at Monday night’s public hearings for the proposed ordinances urged the council not to approve them, and suggested they be tweaked.
Around 1:30 a.m, with more than 40 agenda items left, the council decided to move the rest of the agenda, including the proposed ordinances, to the special council meeting on Aug. 10.
“I believe some of those ordinances should be postponed and relooked at,” said Councilman Eric Mays before the vote to postpone the ordinances. “As I said earlier, I’ve heard a lot of talk about penalties and confiscation, but we can write into those ordinances progressive jail time prior to confiscation of property and vehicles, and avoid some of the, in my opinion, constitutional challenges.”
The first ordinance, which would create harsher penalties for drag racing, has been before the council since May. At the council meeting on July 27, the council approved the first reading of the ordinances.
The ordinance would amend the Flint City Code of Ordinances by adding a section titled “Drag Racing” to Chapter 28, Motor Vehicles and Traffic. This section would make it unlawful for people to participate in “a speed or acceleration contest or for the purpose of making a speed record,” or drag racing.
Drag racing is defined in the ordinance as the “operation of two or more vehicles from a point side by side at accelerating speeds in a competitive attempt to out-distance each other over a common selected course,” and also includes points about competitive speeds and timing.
Violation of this section would be classified as a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $250 to $500, or by up to 90 days of imprisonment. It would also justify police impounding and forfeiting the vehicle.
During the meeting, City Attorney Angela Wheeler said towing fees, storage fees, maintenance costs, property costs, costs of prosecution, costs of incarceration, and other fees could be recouped as well. She said the money that is received “will be deposited into the city’s general fund or as directed by the court.”
Some residents who spoke during the public hearing said those punishments are too harsh, would disproportionately impact Black people, and may even violate their constitutional rights.
“I think this should be looked at more closely, as it’s in the Constitution. You’re going to be in for big lawsuits for seizing property,” said Dan Wilson, and urged the council to look at the 4th and 14th amendment which are related to seizure of property.
Resident Thomas Green said they should just put a “heavy fine” on the driver, but not seize their whole car.
Some residents said this ordinance could be disproportionately harmful to the Black community.
“Why do we always run to try to make laws instead of just trying to correct the problem without making new laws? Because every time we make a new law, it never benefits the African American community,” said resident Arthur Woodson.
Third ward resident Marsha Green said she thinks drag racing is policed in predominantly Black areas, and less so in white areas.
“If you’re going to do this ordinance, it needs to be level across the board. Because you go on Clio Road, and tow cars, but you know they’re racing on St. John’s every week, but you don’t send no police out there,” Green said.
She also said it’s mostly young people who took their parent’s car to race without their knowledge.
Resident Wendy Brown said she was in favor of the ordinance, but also talked about a project in Detroit in which an area designated for drag racing was created. She said she thought that might be an idea for Flint to look at. “I think that would be a great way to curb some of this outrageous speeding,” Brown said.
The second public hearing was for a proposed ordinance that would punish people for loitering in or about their vehicles in “such a manner as to impede the free flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic, to disturb the public peace, or to create a noise disturbance.”
In this ordinance, to loiter is to “stop, stand, idle, park, or remain parked in or about a motor vehicle,” or to “collect, gather, congregate, or be a member of a group or crowd of people who are gathered together in or about a motor vehicle,” in a public place.
In addition to prohibiting loitering, this ordinance also prohibits obstructing traffic, and “engaging in conduct which is intended to and does cause another person to feel angry, frightened, intimidated, embarrassed or harassed.” It goes into further specifics about indecent exposure, and noise disturbances.
The ordinance states that a person caught loitering and doing any of these things would be guilty of a misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment up to 90 days. The impoundment and forfeiture of the motor vehicle is also permitted, and is at the discretion of the Flint police.
“This is really to combat this issue that’s going on through the city such as what happened at Sunoco and other places throughout the city of Flint causing large crowds interrupting the free flow of pedestrian traffic, vehicular traffic,” Wheeler said.
At the council meeting on July 27, Police Chief Terence Green said this was a necessary ordinance as he has received “several thousand citizen complaints” about loitering, especially from business owners.
Murphy called in again for this hearing and said he thought youth loitering around their cars was a sign that they don’t have anything better to do in the city.
“What they’re doing is showing us that they don’t have nothing to do, they don’t have nowhere to go,” he said. He suggested creating a designated area for people to congregate, and set up vendors selling food and other goods.
Second ward candidate Audrey Muhammad said she’d like the community to brainstorm together to come up with a solution to this problem. She said she felt this ordinance would set the city up for lawsuits.
Resident Chris Del Morone agreed and said lawsuits would be inevitable with the wording of the ordinance.
“The ordinance talks about, someone might do something that makes someone feel embarrassed. How in the world do we measure that? We’re going to open up a lawsuit on both ends,” he said. “The person would say ‘I felt embarrassed and the police did nothing,’ and the other person would say, ‘there’s no way that would have embarrassed the average human being.’”
Resident Gina Luster said she thought this ordinance would open up opportunities for the city to be sued as well.
“I think a lot of this has to fall back on the owners. They have to manage their business,” she said. “The police cannot be everywhere.”