Commentary

printed 10/04/2019

Do not blame Ocean City officials or the Ocean City Police Department for failing to stop the vehicular havoc of last weekend.

They did all the law allows to control an infestation of the resort by thousands of tuner cars, whose owners were bent on inflicting themselves on a community they knew didn’t want them.

Blame instead the members of the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, who last March killed a bill sought by Ocean City government, and submitted by Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, that would have reinforced the Special Event Zone law.

That bill, had it not been perfunctorily dumped in a unanimous vote by the committee led by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, (D-Baltimore), would have outlawed or prevented many of the actions that resort residents and innocent visitors found dangerous and infuriating: the purposely grid-locked roads that denied other vehicles passage, the excessively loud gunning of engines, the perpetual backfiring, and the tire spinning that squealed from traffic light to traffic light.

But no, the committee, fully aware that the police would be outnumbered by at least 10 to one and that every minute the police spent on one situation would render them unable to respond to dozens of others, brushed off these concerns as an overreaction.

In committee members’ minds, incessant engine backfiring at 140 decibels is just part of a good time at the beach, as is barely being able to control the direction of a vehicle on a crowd-lined street because of wheel-spinning-induced loss of traction.

If anything, the legislation waved off by the committee as too severe was much too restrained.

The original proposal, which was summarily dismissed by legislators when it was first discussed in 2017, would have imposed much stiffer fines, allowed impoundment of vehicles in cases of negligent and reckless driving and called for jail time for some offenses.

Instead, the General Assembly in 2018 passed a skim milk version of the law because legislators feared special event zone enforcement might be sought by their own towns someday.

Suffice to say had what gone on last weekend in Ocean City happened in Baltimore, Ellicott City, Emmitsburg, Towson, Takoma Park or Havre de Grace, towns and cities represented by members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, it would have been viewed as a riot.

But not here in a beach town, where residents and businesses must observe a greater level of tolerance, apparently, at least until committee members’ constituents begin to wonder about how the values of their beach properties might be affected.

As it now stands, this community’s tolerance is used up. Its enthusiasm for excessively loud special events of all kinds is at low ebb, and good actors will be penalized along with the bad.

Don’t blame the police for failing to control the situation. They did a remarkable job, given the numerical disadvantages and legal limitations with which they had to work.

Don’t blame the mayor and City Council, who pushed hard for sterner measures but were rebuffed, and who will now have to consider other actions to protect the town, its residents and its destination resort image.

Without help from the state, and a law that provides for much steeper fines, the suspension of driver’s licenses, jail time and the power to impound cars for a variety of moving violations, resort officials will find themselves considering options that may prove unpopular.

Don’t blame them, blame the General Assembly and the Judicial Proceedings Committee for denying Ocean City’s attempt to protect itself.

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