Benson residents cruise Main Street in defiance of ban
Posted April 12, 2014
Benson, N.C. — A number of residents in Benson took to the streets Saturday night to cruise in their cars, an activity that's been banned by the town since 1996.
Lee Blackmon, a lifelong Johnston County resident who grew up in Benson, coordinated the event through Facebook. He said he got the idea after eating at a Waffle House with his sons and talking to them about what he used to do when he was young.
Blackmon estimated more than 300 people participated in the event, which he dubbed “Cruise Benson,” along Main Street. Police were also out in force, checking license plates and monitoring the crowds.
Under the town’s ordinance, it is illegal to drive past a traffic control point three times or more within two hours from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Sunday. The penalty is a $50 fine plus fees and court costs, which add up to $241.
Town leaders were aware of the event and posted a message on Benson's Facebook page Friday, encouraging people to park their cars and stroll instead.
“We’d rather not see you spend $241 for a ticket. We’d rather you spend your money with our local merchants and stores,” the message said.
About 2,000 people used to cruise Main Street on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. But the town's Board of Commissioners outlawed the activity after two men who visited the town on cruising nights were killed. One was shot; the other was beaten to death.
Town Manager Matt Zapp said elected leaders took "prudent action" at the time, and they now must "enforce the rules that are on the books."
Zapp said he spoke to Blackmon on Friday and invited him to come to the April 29 meeting of the Board of Commissioners to discuss the issue.
"If it's a change they want to see come back, it's definitely open for dicussion," Zapp said.
The cruising event prompted the Benson Police Department to put 12 of its 15 officers on duty Saturday night, including the chief, Zapp said. He said everyone was polite and respectful, and no tickets were written or arrests made.
Blackmon said he plans to lobby town leaders to repeal the ban, which he thinks has hurt the downtown's economy. For example, he said, many fast food restaurants left after the ban because of a lack of customers.
"We'll go through the right channels to get this changed," he said.
Meanwhile, Saturday night was a time for reminiscing for Blackmon. He said most of the participants were older people or parents who brought their kids along to cruise up and down Main Street.
“I saw a lot of people I went to school with,” he said. "This brought back a lot of memories."