Monday, July 7, 2008
A Possible Major Freedom And Liberty Crackdown In St.Louis: More To Follow! Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere! Freedom 08
St. Louis considers cruising crackdown
Jared Orr, of Bridgeton, watches as cars cruise through Fairground Park in St. Louis Sunday afternoon.
(John L. White/P-D)By Jake Wagman
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
ST. LOUIS — Visit Fairground Park any Sunday when the weather is warm and brace for the parade.
An impromptu procession of cars, people and noise trolls slowly through the park, blocking traffic from Grand Boulevard to Goodfellow Boulevard.
It's called "cruising," and it's been around virtually as long as the automobile itself. A chance to see and be seen, to show off a new ride or a fresh paint job, to mingle with friends or meet new people.
But City Hall — saying the gatherings have grown disruptive and increasingly violent — wants to crack down on the weekend party. Following the lead of other cities, St. Louis aldermen are considering an ordinance that aims to curb cruisers.
The push for a citywide ordinance comes as gunplay continues to grip some parts of St. Louis, making large, unorganized outings potential magnets for crime. Last month, a teenage girl was fatally shot while standing at a gas station in the heart of the Sunday cruising district near Fairground Park.
Residents say that the influx of visitors, many from outside city limits, snarls traffic so much that they are bound to their homes on Sunday evenings.
"We have to send a message that's hard and firm. People feel they can come into the city and do whatever they want," said Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, sponsor of the anti-cruising bill. "I'm fed up, and my constituents are fed up."
Cruising, in St. Louis at least, is mostly a Sunday phenomenon. And it's not new. Previous generations gathered in Forest Park or along the riverfront. But now that cruising is focused in Fairground Park, officials say the gridlock, plus the proliferation of firearms, poses a threat to the surrounding neighborhoods.
Police have a special Sunday "cruising detail" that includes a fleet of tow trucks — not just to impound cars, but to position the rigs as improvised roadblocks. Congestion is so thick that fire and emergency vehicles can't pass through, police say.
"I've seen this grow progressively worse over the years," said police Maj. Alfred Adkins. "If you want to, you could walk across the top of vehicles from one side of Goodfellow to the other."
Boyd said homeowners in his ward have complained about cruisers parking on curbs, urinating on garages, spitting on their grass.
Antionette Bullay, who lives in the area, said the weekly caravan has grown so large and rowdy that all other activity comes to a standstill. It's like a Mardi Gras every Sunday.
"They don't even have respect for a funeral, how about that one? You've got a funeral coming through, they don't care," said Bullay, 52. "They're hanging out the cars. The women undressed, the guys with the bouncing cars. It's like a show. They're showing off who's got this and who's got that."
Although overall crime in the Fairground Park area has remained steady, police statistics suggest a recent increase on Sundays.
Over the last two summers, Saturday has proved to be the most dangerous day of the week in the area. Every Saturday, an average of eight to nine violent crimes were reported. But this May, Sundays were the most violent day of the week there, with an average of about 11 violent crimes.
Cities from York, Pa., to Milwaukee have gotten tough on cruisers. St. Louis County passed an anti-cruising law in 1993 to combat bumper-to-bumper get-togethers in a shopping center parking lot.
In St. Louis, aldermen are considering a law that would ban the "repetitive driving of any motor vehicle past the same location within a two-hour period." Chronic offenders could face a $500 fine or up to 60 hours of community service. The law would affect parks, streets and commercial parking lots citywide.
Though cruising laws have passed court challenges elsewhere, they are difficult to enforce.
"We are just saying any human being driving back and forth to Burger King is in violation?" Alderman Stephen Conway said at a committee meeting earlier this month.
Cruisers have their own objections to the proposed ordinance.
"One day out of seven days a week, let us enjoy ourselves," said Antonio Tucker, 26, of St. Ann, part of the crowd at Fairground Park on a recent weekend.
The Sunday evening scene is part social club, part auto show. Trick cars with oversized wheels, unhinged doors and suped-up sound systems clog the streets. Some are parked, others go on a slow drive through the park. Men and women buzz between cars for conversation or meet under a tree to beat the heat.
Looking for beer? Wine? Snow cones?
It's all available. One recent Sunday, there was even a street entrepreneur selling bug repellent.
Even some of the aldermen in favor of the cruising law admit that they, too, cruised when they were younger.
"Cruising is old as America," said Mo Davis, 40, of Spanish Lake. "Look at 'Happy Days.'"
The violence, though, is what troubles city officials.
On June 1, Shirlene R. Williams, 16, a freshman at Hazelwood East High School, was shot in the head and the leg about 9 p.m. outside a gas station at the corner of Grand and Natural Bridge. She died. Her 21-year-old cousin was shot in the head and left in critical condition.
Family members said the two were innocent victims caught in the crossfire.
"They were down there to cruise," said police Lt. Jeff Souders. "That's what they told their parents."
In a span of just two hours on a Sunday last month, police confiscated three guns.
Those who flock to the park say that any crowd can draw a criminal element, and that shootings happen every night of the week.
But even Davis, a veteran cruiser, concedes the outings can attract a nefarious lot. In his day job, Davis is a fugitive recovery agent and, while cruising, he also checks his bail-jumpers list.
"I'm cruising for a purpose," Davis said.
Others in the Sunday park crowd say cruising is more than recreation — it's a tradition.
"This is what we do on Sunday," said Angela Scott, 20. "We ride."
Jaimi Dowdell of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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