22.6.06

THE STREETS BELONG TO THE PEOPLE. There's an urban insurgency going on ... in Milwaukee.
Frustrated by a weekend cruising ritual that gridlocks intersections and gobbles up officers' time, some Milwaukee leaders are pushing for new tools to fight the problem, boosting fines and letting police seize cars by declaring them a "nuisance."
It's not really cruising as I understood it. Cruising used to involve cars that moved, and some places have anti-cruising ordinances under which a driver can be ticketed for passing the same location more than three times in an hour. (Delivery cars are presumably exempt.) It is emergent and spontaneous.

Those who do it call it "being in traffic," police say.

At bar time on weekend nights, hundreds of people communicating by cell phones agree on a destination and head out. The traffic quickly jams, drivers put their cars in park, and a makeshift street party starts. Booze-fueled fights often break out. Guns sometimes are fired. Cars cut over lawns.

(We used to call that the aftermath of a Hamilton-Pulaski basketball game, without the gunplay.)

So the riot act now applies to clusters of cars.
They want to beef up the city's riot and illegal assembly ordinance. The proposal, which will be debated next week in committee, defines "unlawful assembly of motor vehicles" as three or more cars gathered in a manner that could injure someone or damage property. The proposal also would ticket people on foot who contribute to such a disorderly scene.
So much for Crazy Jim's demolition derby? So much for the Constitution?

Taking cars would raise civil rights concerns, said Stan Stojkovic, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Helen Bader School of Social Welfare.

"There could be abuse. If you do something like that, you better think it through," he said. "There is no easy answer to this problem. You have to be vigilant. But you have to make sure vigilance isn't excessive."

Ah, the trade-offs of due process. The populace has to be sufficiently self-governing in order to enjoy freedoms?

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