To stop drag racing, rev up the arrests

This weekend’s mayhem was more than a hint to authorities that impounding the cars and fining those involved in unsanctioned events isn’t enough.

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A man climbs onto a Chicago Police Department vehicle as officials attempted to break up a street takeover, where hundreds gathered to watch cars drift in circles at West 119th and South Halsted streets on the Far South Side, Friday night, Aug. 26, 2022.

A man climbs onto a Chicago Police Department vehicle as officers try to break up a street takeover at West 119th and South Halsted streets on the Far South Side Friday night, Aug. 26. Other such takeovers happened late Saturday into Sunday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

There are no “Fast & Furious” movies being filmed in Chicago right now, and there have been no amateur tryouts for next year’s NASCAR event that we know of.

But a red flag was raised this past weekend when stunt drivers and a throng of onlookers flocked to the streets, creating a chaotic and dangerous scene in several parts of the city.

The mayhem was more than a hint to authorities that impounding the cars and fining those involved in unsanctioned events isn’t enough. More arrests, and perhaps higher fines as Police Supt. David Brown called for Monday, are necessary — and we know that isn’t an easy thing to accomplish when police officers are being attacked by bricks and bottles.

The officers aren’t the only ones who could suffer serious injuries or worse.

Editorial

Editorial

The daredevils behind the wheel and their fans are also placing themselves in harm’s way as the vehicles spin and drift just inches from the crowd. The risks involved are hardly diminished when the cars try to evade the cops at a high rate of speed.

If it wasn’t for a police officer’s bear hug, one man could have been struck by a fleeing car during a so-called street takeover on the Far South Side as the weekend got off to a start.

Then in the Loop early Saturday, 19-year-old Omar Daaboul, of suburban Worth, allegedly decided to drive his Dodge Challenger toward a police sergeant who was investigating “a drag racing incident.”

Daaboul was charged with several offenses, including aggravated assault of a peace officer, as he rightly should be.

Nine people were arrested overall, seven vehicles were seized and 22 more were flagged for impoundment, CPD Chief of Patrol Brian McDermott told reporters Monday.

But more can be done, as McDermott and Brown suggested. Salt trucks and other large vehicles may be used in the future to stop the drifting, and investigators are tracking social media posts that attract both out-of-staters and Chicago area residents to the events, they said.

That’s a start, as shown by the cancellation of one drifting event Sunday night “due to major police activity,” the Sun-Times’ Tom Schuba reported.

Brown suggested the City Council consider tweaking a recently passed ordinance designed to curb illegal drag racing by allowing officers to target spectators.

In addition to impounding vehicles, fines could be raised, Brown said. City Council should seriously consider both proposals.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said last month that street takeovers have mushroomed since the early days of the pandemic when roads were mostly left empty, tempting those who wanted to use the public space as their concrete playground.

As we noted in the spring, more drivers have been speeding, driving while intoxicated and choosing to keep their seat belts off since the height of COVID-19, leading our nation to record the highest number of traffic fatalities since 2005. We cannot afford for drag racing to add to the already mounting death toll in Illinois.

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Drag racing culture has been around for a long time, glamorized in classic films including “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Grease,” and the aforementioned “Fast & Furious” franchise.

The subplots are entertaining on the screen, but the consequences for those who seek those thrills in real life are deadly.

Neither Shawman Meireis nor the person responsible for her death on the Southwest Side Sunday morning were involved in any of this weekend’s street takeovers.

But — like the cars at these events — the driver of the speeding Corvette that struck Meireis a day before her 41st birthday was “showing off” in front of another Corvette, weaving in and out of traffic, police and a witness said.

The driver who hit the Florida woman said he was fleeing a carjacking. Those who were outside saw otherwise.

Our streets are not racetracks. Anyone who won’t adhere to the rules of the road must be held accountable, before more lives are lost.

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