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“They are not only a nuisance and an annoyance to us, but they are extremely dangerous.”

NEW YORK — Police investigators are looking for suspects in a homicide weeks after a 45-year-old man was beaten by about 30 people on ATVs and motorcycles on East 125th Street in East Harlem, police said Wednesday.

The man, whom police identified as Arthur Cooke, was driving east around 10 p.m. on Nov. 4 when someone in the group hit the passenger-side mirror of his vehicle, the Police Department said. When he got out to check for damage, the riders started beating him. Police said one of the people brandished a firearm at Cooke during the robbery.

Cooke was taken to NYC Health & Hospitals/Harlem where he was pronounced dead on November 18 from blunt force trauma to his neck and spine.

Police said another man, who did not believe he was with the riders, drove Cooke’s vehicle away from the scene.

Off-road motorcycles and ATVs are illegal in the city, but the city has struggled with vehicles for years. Alleys and streets throughout Manhattan are periodically taken over by swarms of wheeled riders, performing stunts and videotaping themselves amidst the deafening roar.

Takeovers sometimes turn into violence. In March, a group of bikers dragged a man and his adult son out of a car in Harlem and beat them up after the driver accidentally ran over one of the bikers.

And in 2013, following a chase that resulted in the beating of an SUV driver, residents in Harlem, the Bronx, Washington Heights and Inwood began expressing frustration that the city ignored the dangers of illegal driving groups.

Last year, after several episodes of violence from such groups, the city began cracking down, and the legislature proposed a bill to increase fines for those driving.

In June, Mayor Eric Adams and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell announced that the city was stepping up its fight to get vehicles off the streets. Sewell said the Police Department confiscated more than 2,000 ATVs and off-road motorcycles across the city, about 80% more than at the same time in 2021.

“They’re not only a nuisance and an annoyance to us, they’re extremely dangerous,” Adams said at the time.

According to the Police Department, the city tows any illegal vehicles officers find parked and seizes any they see. Over 30,000 touching breaches have been issued so far this year; 3,000 motorcycles were towed, including off-road bikes and ATVs; more than 9,000 off-road motorcycles and ATVs were confiscated.

“People who illegally drive these vehicles have no respect for traffic laws or public safety,” Adams said in a Wednesday statement. “We will continue to target and destroy these unauthorized and dangerous vehicles that do nothing but terrorize our neighborhoods.”

Cooke, a victim of recent violence, lived in Harlem and worked as a case manager and trial attorney for the Alternatives to Incarceration program at Exodus Transitional Communities Inc as of July 2021. According to the group, he had a son.

In the organization’s annual report last year, Cooke, who spent time in prison, said he wanted to be “part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

He was hired by Exodus after meeting with employees to find help re-entering the workforce. Julio Medina, the organization’s founder and chief executive officer, said in a statement Wednesday that Cooke’s d*ath “devastated” the community.

“We’ve watched his mindset change from hopeless since serving his sentence to hopeful and aspiring, and he’s always helped his participants do the same,” Medina said.

On Wednesday afternoon, outside Cooke’s apartment, neighbors remembered the man they called respectful and polite.

“He was a light stepper, a gentle giant,” said Sheryl Burnell. “Nothing about his behavior ever showed, you know, aggression, over-aggression or anything that would trigger or start an argument of this kind.”

As street vendors set up their businesses along East Harlem’s bustling 125th Street and shoppers hunted for bargains, several e-bikes flew through the streets.

Tony Wilson, 61, said he often saw dirt bikes and ATVs going back and forth on 125th Street “as if they had nowhere else to go.”

“It’s just showing off, jumping out of the circles and that’s it,” said Wilson. “Eric Adams needs to hurry up and get all these bikes,” he added.

Fatouma Koné, 25, who has lived in Harlem all her life, echoed Wilson, saying that riders mainly seek to shine on social media and build their reputation.

“They have become bolder,” she said. “As if they didn’t care about the presence of the police on the spot.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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