A reminder by the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office and the Baltimore Police Department this week that dirt bike riding is illegal and that they will crack down on the activity this year has stirred a familiar debate on social media, talk radio and in private circles.

As much a part of Baltimore summers as crabs, dirt biking is once again raising issues about safety and noise pollution on one side of the spectrum and whether the annual crackdown unfairly targets African American youth on the other.

People questioned whether the dirt bikes returning to Baltimore streets is a sign of the city’s lawlessness. They questioned whether fines do anything to stop the activity. And they raised quality-of-life issues, such as the noise from the constant revving of engines.

“Illegal dirt bike riding endangers pedestrians, drivers and the riders themselves,” State’s Attorney Ivan J. Bates said.

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He and others said they also want to support programs that offer other places for dirt bikers to ride, such as tracks.

“It’s imperative that we crack down on every individual enabling illegal dirt bike riding to persist in our city and uplift those organizations, like B-360, that provide alternatives to riders,” Bates said. “This increased enforcement directly responds to calls from our residents and communities and is ultimately about safety in Baltimore.”

While many people want to see a solution, others say they wonder if anything can be done given that dirt bikes have been a problem for so many years.

The situation is complex, said Louis Thomas, an activist and longtime rider.

“If we really want to solve the problem … they need to hit it from a holistic direction. Just fining people isn’t going to help,” Thomas said.

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Thomas added that true riders are going to ride regardless, which is why he doesn’t see fines as an effective route. When he was younger, he remembers getting caught riding and simply wondering how he could perfect his skill, get faster and prevent himself from getting caught again.

In an email, James Bentley, a spokesperson for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, said it has brought charges in 11 dirt bike cases in 2024. People, he said, have complained to the state’s attorney about how dirt bikes are a nuisance that “disrupts their peaceful communities” and “impacts their quality of life.”

The Baltimore Police Department’s Dirt Bike Task Force also “continues to work with other units across the department to make arrests and seizures,” according to Amanda Krotki, a spokeswoman for the department.

Krotki added that there’s a tip line for residents to give information about suspects and the storage and location of dirt bikes. From 2019 through 2023, 673 dirt bikes were seized, according to Krotki.

Dirt bikes were a hot topic on talk radio this week. In back-to-back conversations on WEAA, Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead and Lawrence Bell talked about the issue on separate segments, inviting callers to chime in.

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Whitehead said there was a lot of concern around fining business owners who allow dirt bikes to fuel up at their establishments. These businesses can be fined $250 to $1,000, depending on the number of offenses. Callers to the shows tossed around scenarios about the dangers of a business owner denying someone service, Whitehead said.

In the beginning of his segment, Bell questioned whether Baltimore’s on track to becoming a lawless city and what people did before dirt bikes were a popular outside activity.

One caller said he didn’t have a problem with the arrest of dirt bikers who taunt police because it’s an “obstruction of justice” but wondered if there’s ever any thought to stopping the manufacturing of the dirt bikes. He said that not all people on dirt bikes are associated with drugs and there might be a way to redirect the creativity and skills into an economic benefit like professional motocross.

Redirecting skilled dirt bike riders to other avenues isn’t a new idea, nor is designating a safe place for them to ride.

Glenn Smith, who’s lived in West Baltimore for most of his life, said he thinks the noise and the traffic disruption are dangerous when it comes to dirt bikes in the city, but he thinks they should have a place to go.

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“If it’s done safely I think it’s an outlet, but from what I’ve seen it’s a little bit dangerous,” Smith said.

B-360, a nonprofit combining dirt bike culture and STEM, is actively raising funds to build a dirt bike campus.

Brittany Young, the founder of the nonprofit, previously said, “Black people just want to have fun too. The kids and young adults we work with want to have fun every day, and they deserve an opportunity to have fun, to be safe and to exist.”

Accountability also seems to be top of mind for people as the topic of dirt bikes resurfaces. A first-time caller on Bell’s WEAA segment, who called dirt bikes “a nuisance,” said accountability starts with “people being appointed into office” and doing what’s right in regard to public safety.

Garrick Hines Sr., an Edmondson Village resident, said in a phone interview that he took issue with a different accountability push — fining parents and guardians of young dirt bike riders.

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Although there’s a need for stricter enforcement measures, focusing on punitive actions against young people and their parents shouldn’t be a go-to answer, he said.

“We are already experiencing economic disparities in the city,” he said. “I don’t think we should go down the road to adding an economic disparity to the families.”

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983.

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