Cruising Crackdown Aims to Curb Crime During Derby Days

While people dressed in their Sunday best watch million-dollar horses and attend exclusive parties this weekend, Louisville's urban youth will be looking for something to do.

Cruising down the city's main drag with stereos blaring from souped-up cars is no longer an option, unless the cruisers want to get arrested. A shooting death last year prompted the mayor and police to crack down and enforce the city's anti-cruising ordinance.

"It's an event that's become unsafe for this community," Metro Police Lt. Col. Philip Turner said.

This year, about 400 police officers will be stationed at intersections along the 5 1/2-mile stretch of Broadway, where in the past, thousands of people have gathered to see and be seen in flashy cars. City officials said criminal activities prompted the crackdown.

Derby cruising turned neighborhoods and business corridors along Broadway into "uninvited raucous, open-air parties where violence, drugs, alcohol and guns are commonplace," said Matt Kamer, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Abramson, in explaining the crackdown. "In recent years, cruising has resulted in scores of arrests for drugs, assault and even murder."

Police began their Derby weekend enforcement efforts Thursday night, and said Friday there had been 13 arrests and 15 citations along the Broadway corridor, five of them specifically for cruising.

Meanwhile, the local American Civil Liberties Union handed out information about racial profiling and local activists posted signs warning youth about the police presence. A group of church leaders even planned to patrol the neighborhoods to prevent a clash between the predominantly black cruising crowd and the police.

"We are concerned there will be confrontations," said Raoul Cunningham, president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

It remains to be seen whether young adults will embrace some of the alternative activities — community barbecue, hip-hop show and celebrity basketball game to name a few — or do what they've usually done. Community leaders and police agree there will be some people who will try to cruise anyway.

"They're upset at the system," said the Rev. Louis Coleman, a community activist who heads the Justice Resource Center. "They're going to rebel."

Those planning events this weekend have been careful not to take responsibility for the cruising crowd.

Christopher 2X, a community activist who is helping plan a series of hip-hop themed events called Derby Music Jam, said organizers can't control that many people. The planning committee also set low attendance expectations.

"We cannot actually stop, and will not even challenge ourselves to stop Derby cruising," 2X told a group of reporters during a news conference last month. "Determined minds are going to do what they're going to do."

At Millennium Fadz Barber Shop on West Broadway, people agreed that the police presence wouldn't stop cruising.

"It's going to be impossible to control," said 20-year-old Justin Sloss, who has watched Derby cruising in Louisville since high school.

"It's just what we do. We don't go to Churchill (site of the Kentucky Derby)," he said.

"When it comes to Derby, what we like to do is be on Broadway, show our cars and meet people we don't know," said Michael Jones, 29.

While shaving a client's head, barber Shon Kenemore said city officials are exaggerating the problems associated with cruising.

"The police are overreacting. I don't think they understand the culture that goes with Derby cruising," Kenemore said.

"With all those police, cruising should be allowed," he added. "It's a waste of money, really, having all those police."

Coleman, the community activist, said he hopes Louisville's teens and young adults will prove him wrong and follow the law. And Turner said the police department is ready to pounce if cruising shows up somewhere other than Broadway.

"We've got a plan that we've been working on for months to deal with the illegal activities associated with cruising, and especially the violence," Turner said.

Throughout most of the weekend, police will limit access on Broadway to people who have legitimate needs. They're handing out 20,000 passes to people who live and work on Broadway to minimize the inconvenience.

Kamer, of the mayor's office, said Broadway corridor merchants and residents complained about the problems of cruising and were consulted as the city came up with its plan.

Troy Hayes, who was shining the wheels and silver rims on his '77 Oldsmobile Cutlass, said the police officers and limited access on Broadway will keep him away this weekend. He's headed to Florida.

"It's something I'm not going to want to be around," he said.