They ride in groups of two, three or a dozen at a time, gleefully popping wheelies on congested city streets, swarming around startled motorists or blithely sailing through stop signals at busy intersections. Hell's Angels? No, just your garden-variety Baltimore dirt bikers, a native species that seem to delight in thumbing their noses at both the law and common courtesy on the road.
Baltimore police were again confronted with the bikers' lawless antics Wednesday, when an unlicensed teenage rider and his passenger ran a red light and slammed into a sedan at a West Baltimore intersection. The rider was thrown from the bike and suffered a broken wrist and arm, but the car's driver was relatively unhurt — until the bike's passenger and other youths set on him, beating him so severely that he had to be rushed to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
The attack followed an incident earlier in the week in which a 41-year-old motorcyclist was killed after swerving into a post to avoid hitting an unlicensed dirt bike whose rider was recklessly carrying a 2-year-old child. The dirt-bike rider then fled the scene, abandoning the injured toddler.
Given the bikers' egregiously irresponsible behavior, it's hard to take seriously the claim, put forward Wednesday at a community forum organized by City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, that the riders are innocent victims of police harassment who only need the encouragement of a little respect in order to be positive forces in their communities.
"We are not the Taliban," dirt bike rider Munir Bahar complained at the gathering, according to the news website Investigative Voices. "We are your sons, we are your fathers, we are your sisters. … We are not a rogue pack of riders," he insisted.
Mr. Bahar, who was accompanied by about a dozen fellow enthusiasts, said dirt bikes should be legal in Baltimore as a form of recreation like any other. He denounced the negative stereotypes of riders as lawless youths and criticized police who "chase us and hunt us down like we just assassinated the president." He even claimed that dirt-bikers help fight crime, though he didn't say how — and no wonder, since every time Mr. Bahar and his fellows hop on their illegal bikes they're, well, committing a crime.
It's maddening that police can't crack down on the scofflaws when they're caught in the act, but the department rightly concluded that it's just too dangerous for officers to chase bikers through traffic and risk injuring innocent motorists and pedestrians. And while the police helicopter unit can track bikers over short distances, its crew obviously can't make arrests. In most cases, launching Foxtrot on such pursuits would be prohibitively expensive for the cash-strapped department.
The city already has laws on the books that allow police to seize unlocked dirt bikes on the street and impound them, and beginning Oct. 1, gas station owners will be prohibited from dispensing fuel to the bikes. But neither measure is likely to be effective if neighborhood residents don't call in the locations of illegal bikes, or if bikers fill up from gas cans instead of at the pump.
The bikers claim the city should provide dedicated facilities in parks or other areas where they can ride legally. Given Baltimore's current budget woes, that's not likely to happen, and in any case it wouldn't solve the problem because the bikers would still have to ride along city streets to get there.
Meanwhile, the riders' lawless conduct endangers everyone. City officials need to reach out to communities with the message that dirt bikes are dangerous and that everyone has a responsibility to cooperate with police in tracking down the miscreants and getting their bikes off the streets. Mr. Bahar and others may say that bikers aren't the Taliban, but they terrorize law-abiding motorists and pedestrians with their anarchic behavior and scofflaw attitude all the same.