Don't penalize city kids for riding dirt bikes

April 25, 2013

The latest attack on Baltimore City children of color, exacerbated by Del. Shawn Tarrant's bill aimed at dually penalizing our youth for riding recreational off-road vehicles — both through the courts and the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration — is a good example of why we need to fully dissect the hundreds of bills affecting the lives of area residents coming from Annapolis each year and challenge those officials who have shown that they don't have our best interests at heart ("Email address to report on illegal dirt bikes," April 18).

While I understand the nuisances these vehicles can bring average citizens when traveling on the roads and highways, I also understand the frustrations of our youth who are merely trying to project their energies into something positive and possibly financially beneficial in the future. And while we know that kids will be kids, the delegate's approach of penalizing these youth through not only the criminal justice system, but via the MVA by suspending their licenses before they ever obtaining the age of eligibility, is itself both criminal and unconstitutional — in my humble opinion.

This egregious bill mandates that my office target these offenders and mandates that I report such behaviors and convictions. And while I am obligated by my oath to do such, I don't believe these efforts protect the lives of the citizens of Baltimore but rather unfairly ruin the lives of young black children who are left without the options of recreation with the elimination of recreation centers and absolutely no outlet for their childish inhibitions.

While I have great respect for the new police commissioner and his preventive approach at eliminating the illegal usage of these vehicles, I believe his department should take it a step further in lobbying the city for a specified alternative destination where these children can take their vehicles and ride. Surrounding counties not only allow for the storage of the vehicles in their garages but also have designated tracks for these dirt bike riders to go and practice their craft.

So instead of trying to criminalize the childish behavior of our children, city officials would be better served by creating innovative outlets for these young folks to legally participate. We cannot keep penalizing children of color and expect them to advance in life when they are beginning adulthood with extensive criminal, and now vehicular, records due to the lack of compassion and forward-thinking policies of adult legislators who are elected to represent their interests.

Frank M. Conaway Sr., Baltimore

The writer is clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

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