‘You will go to jail’: Atlanta officials warn street racers to stay out of city

Atlanta police Interim Chief Darin Schierbaum (right) and Mayor Andre Dickens stand in front of an impounded Dodge Challenger on Tuesday morning and warn street racers to stay out of the city or face the consequences.

Credit: Rosana Hughes

Credit: Rosana Hughes

Atlanta police Interim Chief Darin Schierbaum (right) and Mayor Andre Dickens stand in front of an impounded Dodge Challenger on Tuesday morning and warn street racers to stay out of the city or face the consequences.

Following a chaotic weekend of what police described as “disturbing” behavior from street racers and spectators, the city of Atlanta and its police department are sending a stern warning to those engaging in the activity: Think twice before burning rubber or face the consequences.

On Saturday night and into Sunday morning, a large group of street racers made their way around the metro area before entering the city, where several arrests were made, according to police.

The illegal stunts have been a growing problem for the city and metro area since 2020, causing traffic disruptions and noise disturbances and leaving city landmarks, such as the iconic Midtown rainbow crosswalks, defaced.

“This was a group that was aggressive,” Atlanta police Interim Chief Darin Schierbaum told reporters Tuesday morning while standing in front of an impounded red Dodge Challenger with black racing stripes and its owner’s Instagram username pasted to its back quarter-panel windows. The car was missing a rear tire that had been flattened.

“This wasn’t just street antics,” Schierbaum said of the weekend’s events. “This was very aggressive action toward police officers of many jurisdictions.”

A red Dodge Challenger was impounded after Atlanta police made several street racing arrests over the weekend.

Credit: Rosana Hughes

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Credit: Rosana Hughes

In South Fulton on Saturday night, an officer was “viciously attacked” by spectators kicking and throwing objects at a patrol vehicle, including a speed limit sign, police said. The group eventually migrated to Atlanta, where 12 arrests were made, including five spectators and two parents who face charges for letting their children roam outside of curfew, Schierbaum said.

“This is very serious,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said during the news conference, directly addressing those involved in the racing. “What you think may be harmless or something that doesn’t impact others, it has a grave consequence if you spin out of control and hurt someone or, God forbid, kill someone — a child or someone in the street.”

The city approved an ordinance in 2020 that sets penalties of up to a $1,000 fine or six months in jail for those who attend street racing events, even if they are not driving. Then, in July of this year, a new state law was enacted that makes it a misdemeanor to promote, organize or attend a street racing event.

But it’s not just an Atlanta-area problem. Cities across the country have grappled with the issue for decades, but it gained more popularity amid the coronavirus pandemic as people stayed home and traffic slowed to a trickle, leaving largely empty roads open to racers and offering a tempting opportunity to post stunts to social media.

Schierbaum said the problem “will end when the courtrooms across the region take action on the cases ... all of us are working together and we are going to end this problem for the region.”

In April 2021, the Georgia State Patrol started a Multi-Agency Crime Suppression and Street Racing Enforcement Detail at the direction of Gov. Brian Kemp. As of the latest public report, which was in March of this year, the agency had compiled 14,000 arrests or citations, issued 16,000 warnings and impounded 1,141 vehicles.

“I want to make sure I send a clear message that if you engage in street racing in the city of Atlanta, you will go to jail and your car will be impounded,” Dickens said. “And if you’re out there watching and filming individuals that are engaging in street racing, we will also arrest you, too.”

In the wake of the weekend’s events, investigators across jurisdictions are collaborating to track down others involved in the illegal activities, especially those responsible for the South Fulton incident.

“We’re going to continue to work to hold other people accountable that were endangering citizens of this city over the weekend, and if you decide to come back to Atlanta, you’re going to find a police department that is aggressive and equipped, and we’re going to use every tool in our toolbox to hold you accountable,” Schierbaum said.