Council wants to wash its hands of dirt bikes

Proposal calls for city to donate banned vehicles to groups in Africa

February 11, 2002|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Talk about getting rid of a problem. The Baltimore City Council wants to send one of its scourges to another hemisphere.

Tired of dirt bikes popping wheelies in the middle of traffic, and frustrated by the havoc the noisy nuisances cause in neighborhoods, the council will vote tonight on whether to bless a deal to send them out of the country.

"Get them out of Baltimore and send the message that we are not going to tolerate them anymore," said Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, a Southwest Baltimore Democrat, a supporter of the proposal to donate seized dirt bikes to groups working in Africa or elsewhere. "We want them out of the city, period."

Two groups based in Africa -- including a church district represented by the Rev. Vashti M. McKenzie, former pastor of Payne Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in West Baltimore -- are interested in taking the dirt bikes off Baltimore's hands. The bikes would help people in African countries where roads are not in good condition, council members and a representative of one group said.

Baltimore outlawed the use of dirt bikes two years ago after two young men died when their bikes slammed into the back of a 10,000-pound delivery truck. Police have estimated that 1,000 such bikes are in the city and have resulted in several deaths. In the past two years, they have seized 119 dirt bikes and 18 unregistered motorcycles.

The council is set to vote tonight whether to approve the shipment of bikes abroad. Still to be worked out is how to ship the bikes without cost to taxpayers.

City Council President Sheila Dixon said the council did not want them auctioned off by the Police Department because the bikes could return to city streets.

"There are places where these bikes can come in handy," Dixon said. "How many fields do you have in the city?"

Added Stukes: "It might be junk to us, but it's somebody else's treasure."

But Stukes and Dixon were concerned about ensuring the bikes didn't end up in the wrong hands.

"The last headline we want to see is that all ... 75 bikes shipped from Baltimore have ended up in drug lords' hands," Stukes said.

One African-based organization seeking to use the bikes is represented by McKenzie, now bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She heads the 18th AME District in Africa, which includes churches in Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland, council members say.

"Their eyes lit up like Christmas trees," Stukes said about members of McKenzie's organization when told about the bikes. "They know the tremendous difficulty to travel over there."

The other group, based in Nigeria, is called Life Long Works Inc. Dwight Williams, a local contact for the group, said it is a religious organization with "guest houses" used to bring foreigners to Nigeria to promote the country.

The bikes would be given to students and teachers, Williams said.

Stukes said he had serious reservations about sending the bikes to Nigeria because of the drug trafficking in the country.

"There is no way that every single one of these bikes is going to wind up in legitimate hands," Stukes said. But at least with the reputation McKenzie's group has, he said, the chances are lower that the bikes would be misused.

Williams promised safeguards to ensure the bikes would be used for good purposes. He said that Hlhaji Hassan, the leader of the organization, wants the 19-member city council to visit Nigeria to see his operation.

The council could "come to the ceremonies when they presented the bikes to the youth," Williams said.

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