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Friday •  June 17, 2022

The Fast and the Fictitious: When Drag Racing and Political “Hit Jobs” Collide in Howard County 

Where are we as a county and as a society when the simple, well-intentioned act of a public official politely asking a group of people to refrain from community-endangering activities and disrupting public places with prolonged, excessively loud noises is met with “Shut up — get the fuck out of here”, “I don’t fucking care” and then is publicly mischaracterized as “racism” and “abuse of power” in a Primary Election season political “hit job”?

 

This is, unfortunately, what happened recently to County Councilwoman Deb Jung after she confronted a group of “modified car enthusiasts” who had allegedly been engine revving and drag racing noisily near Clarksville Commons for hours on the evening of May 29, disrupting Jung and other diners who chose to eat outdoors that night.  Such disturbances have been a recurring problem for the area, according to local restaurant staff and residents in nearby neighborhoods. 

 

After the “modified car enthusiasts” parked their cars in the Clarksville Commons, Councilwoman Jung and her husband approached the group of men to let them know how disruptive their activities had been that evening.  Their polite concerns were met with a barrage of vulgarities and disrespectful indignation, prompting Jung to warn them that she was a member of the County Council and that she “would be happy to report them to the police” if they continued their disruptions in the future.  This warning didn’t phase the men, who continued to vulgarly dismiss their concerns until Jung and her husband deescalated the situation by leaving.

 

In the midst of this confrontation, one of the men chose to record Councilwoman Jung and her husband.  Here is the unedited original video:

Before continuing, let’s examine the problem that Councilwoman Jung was attempting to confront in this situation: drag racing.

 

Drag racing, or unsanctioned street racing with vehicles at illegal speeds on public roads, is an activity that is not only highly disruptive, but life-threatening to the community as a whole.  While Maryland as a whole has dealt with this problem for decades, a recent rise in this activity and various tragic outcomes have prompted other jurisdictions across the state such as Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore County to get more serious about solving this issue.

 

The issue has steadily increased in frequency and severity across Howard County, with a few specific areas as notable hot spots in recent years.  Many social media posts have been made in Elkridge and Clarksville community groups about disruptive engine revving and dangerous drag racing on both major roads as well as neighborhoods:

While many complaints have been filed to the Howard County Police Department and County government regarding these incidents, the problem has persisted and alarmingly escalated in frequency and severity across the county over the past few years,  leaving many concerned county residents wondering whether the local police are really doing all that it can to discourage these activities and arrest those who engage in them.

 

Accounts from multiple officials with knowledge of Howard County’s law enforcement policies provide an alarming explanation for this recent uptick in activity.  According to these accounts, county policies pertaining to drag racing-related offenses have recently been changed from fines or arrests for these crimes to a policy of just “stop and disperse“, with the issuing of citations and overall enforcement being discouraged and labeled as “too aggressive”.

 

Why? 

 

Who issued this guidance and who could possibly benefit from such a public safety-lowering change to county law enforcement policy?

 

Having recognized drag racing as a real, growing community concern, and seeing that the executive branch of the county government was failing to address the issue, Councilwoman Jung decided to boldly confront the problem head-on and directly at the source in this specific situation .

A few days after the confrontation in the Clarksville Commons parking lot, this same group of “modified car enthusiasts” took to social media to mock Jung about the interaction on her official County Councilwoman Facebook page, going so far as to ask her to fix the potholes in the road to improve their 100+ MPH racing speeds:

While Jung expected that this would be the end of this situation, it unfortunately escalated into a coordinated political “hit job” against her about 10 days later.

 

On June 8, an unannounced press conference focused on the incident was held outside the George Howard Building in Ellicott City by representatives from the NAACP Howard County, Council of Elders of Howard County, Howard County African American Community Roundtable and a few other local organizations.

Jung was not notified of the event until after it had concluded.  At this press conference, Willie Flowers, the president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference, claimed that Jung had “overused her powers” and called for her to apologize for her actions.

 

The Baltimore Sun quickly published an article about this situation on June 9.  The article included quotes by Sam Hightower, one of the “modified car enthusiasts” involved in the situation and the person who had provided the video of the confrontation.  Hightower and his mother, Paula Seabright, were both highlighted near the end of the article and given the “last word” in the story, provocatively emphasizing the ethnicities of Jung (white) and Hightower (bi-racial) and injecting an artificial and inflammatory “racially charged” angle to the overall tone of the situation despite the fact that most members of the group that Jung had confronted were white.

 

Absent from the Baltimore Sun article, but highly relevant to this situation, is the fact that Mr. Hightower recently received a Probation Before Judgement ruling after being charged with driving 93 MPH in a 55 MPH zone (northbound on Route 29 near the Seneca Dr. exit).  An examination of one of Hightower’s Instagram pages yields hundreds of pictures and videos of cars modified for racing and enhanced engine noise, including

  • Videos of high-speed racing on highways and of a drag race on a public road (Rappahannock Ave.) in Jessup that perfectly demonstrates the noise and threat to public safety that such activities cause.
  • A video of a modified car with a license plate matching the one listed in Hightower’s recent court case equipped with an illegal flashing police light package parked at the Freestate gas station on Route-108 in Clarksville.
  • Videos from inside a car doing “donuts” in the River Hill High School parking lot.

There are also many pictures and videos of this group of Dom Torettos-in-training parked in and driving around the Clarksville Commons parking lot on a variety of dates, substantiating the claim that the noise caused by their activities is a recurring concern in that particular area.

 

Also not mentioned in the Baltimore Sun’s article is the fact that Hightower’s mother, Paula Seabright, is a political activist who donated $150 directly to the election campaign of Janssen Evelyn, Jung’s political opponent in this year’s County Council District 4 race, as well as $2,250 to The Howard Progressive Project, a Political Action Committee (PAC) that formally endorsed Janssen Evelyn and has been publicly supporting his campaign.  Another son of Ms. Seabright, Gabriel Hightower, is on the Board of Directors of The Howard Progressive Project PAC.

Another missed detail in the Baltimore Sun is the fact that Janssen Evelyn is a “Member-at-Large” of the NAACP Howard County Branch that was featured in the article and led the press conference to demand an apology from Councilwoman Jung.

 

The Baltimore Sun article also published the video recorded by Hightower.  However, the Sun’s version of the video edited out two important seconds of dialogue by Councilwoman Jung.  Compare the full video shown above with the Sun’s version of the video.

 

The Baltimore Sun’s video is two seconds shorter and edits out the part where Deb Jung says “and I will be happy to report you” between the 8 second and 11 second mark of the original video.

This missing dialogue is important because it shows that Jung didn’t threaten to immediately call the police on the group of men — a claim that certain political activists and organizations have been making to mischaracterize the situation and accuse Jung of racism and abuse of power.

 

Following this press conference and publication of the Baltimore Sun article, a barrage of attacks and mischaracterizations from political activists was unleashed on Deb Jung across social media and formal denunciations and demands for an apology were issued by partisan political organizations that have publicly supported Jung’s Primary Election opponent, Janssen Evelyn, including the Howard County Young Democrats, the Howard Progressive Project, the Elevate Maryland podcast, the HoCo Progress Report blog  authored by Jennifer Solpietro (another member of the Board of Directors of The Howard Progressive Project PAC), and the current president of the Columbia Democratic Club, Cynthia Fikes (yet another a member of the Board of Directors of The Howard Progressive Project PAC).  Examples of this are shown below:

In their attempts to politically damage Councilwoman Jung by any means necessary, these political activists, social justice organizations and partisan political groups have either ignorantly or intentionally missed the mark on the serious and growing county problem of drag racing that Councilwoman Jung was attempting to address.

Instead of being accused of racism and abuse of power, Councilwoman Jung should be commended for taking the time “off-duty” to contribute in a small way towards discouraging this activity.

 

Some individuals and organizations have respectably published their own letters and posts to denounce this clear, well-orchestrated pre-Primary Election political “hit job”, including blogger Hiruy Hadgu, the Progressive Democrats of Howard County and the Indian Cultural Association of Howard County

 

To date, however, no individuals or organizations that launched attacks against Jung for this situation have rescinded their remarks or their demands for an apology.

 

Concluding Thoughts

 

The artificial, politically motivated and coordinated outrage generated by this situation against Councilwoman Deb Jung is a stunning demonstration of the lengths to which extreme political activists and certain partisan political organizations in this county will go to try to win an election. 

The fact that these individuals and organizations have artificially injected the important societal concern of racism into the story in an attempt to smear Councilwoman Jung is particularly reprehensible.

 

This is “Washington Politics” at its worst and is a situation that should be broadly condemned by Howard County residents, especially Jung’s fellow public servants and this year’s batch of local political candidates. 

 

Where is Janssen Evelyn’s denunciation of this baseless political “hit job” against his opponent in the Howard County Council District 4 race? 

Evelyn is closely associated with many of the major organizations and individuals who have led the public smear campaign against Jung and his silence in this matter is only encouraging his most ruthless political supporters to persist with these activities. 

Even though these attacks may improve Evelyn’s chances of being elected, an honorable prospective community leader would denounce such actions and would advise those committing them to focus on solving real substantive community issues such as the drag racing brought to light by this situation. 

 

As unfortunate as this circumstance has been, some good may be salvageable from it.  By her actions, County Councilwoman Jung has highlighted the real and growing problem of drag racing in Howard County. 

Community residents in Clarksville, Elkridge and other parts of the county now have the perfect opportunity to pressure County Executive Calvin Ball and the Howard County Police Department to take this problem more seriously and implement better strategies to crack down on street racing. 

Other counties have already committed additional police resources to this problem.  Unless the Ball Administration tackles this issue soon, streets racers from all across Maryland will increasingly flock to Howard County as a safe haven for their dangerous and disruptive activities.

 

If you would like to voice your concern about this issue, one upcoming opportunity is at next week’s Public Safety Town Hall Meeting, scheduled to take place on June 21, 2022 at 6:00 PM at the Savage Volunteer Fire Company ( 8521 Corridor Rd. Savage, MD 20763 ) 

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