Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) They're called dubs, spinners, Sprees, chrome: expensive, flashy wheel rims that are turning heads on the street.
These aftermarket rims sell for $2,000 to $20,000 a set, but they can come at an even steeper price: death. Five people have been killed in Milwaukee alone since May 2001 in incidents involving expensive car rims, according to court records.
Custom rims and other accessories have long been a part of America's automotive obsession. But some fear the glorification of pricey rims by hip-hop culture, rappers, athletes and shows such as MTV's "Pimp My Ride" will only make things worse as youths try to imitate their role models.
The latest victim, Sasha Carter, 19, was shot to death May 3 when two men carjacked her at a Milwaukee gas station. According to the criminal complaint, the suspects wanted the 20-inch Helo Kick chrome rims on the car she was driving. Kevin Evans, 23, and Anthony Hardy Jr., 17, both of Milwaukee, have been charged in the case.
Jorge Salgado, 24, said he nearly lost his life because of his 20-inch chrome rims in April when he was carjacked on Milwaukee's south side.
Salgado was driving his 1999 red Chevrolet S10 pickup truck on April 26 when he was forced off the road and ordered out of the car at gunpoint.
"They came to me in the front and said, `Give me the keys,'" Salgado said. "They had a 9mm."
The next day, Milwaukee police found Salgado's $5,000 truck - stripped of its $4,000 rims.
Specific numbers on carjackings were not available from the Milwaukee Police Department. Nationally, the numbers of people killed in these incidents is not overwhelming: From 1996 to 2000, 92 people were killed during motor vehicle thefts, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Custom rims are not the only reason a vehicle might be targeted by carjackers. But if sporty rims can lead to deadly consequences, why do so many young adults want them?
"Everyone wants to live large and make an impression. Like most things in the hip-hop world, size matters," said Michel Marriott, who has written extensively about hip-hop culture for The New York Times.
"It's a status that shows wealth. When you see someone with rims, the message is supposed to be that they're a major player. Rims are `bling-bling' for the car."
Expensive rims became popular on the West Coast in late 1999, Marriott said. Their popularity grew when they were featured in rap videos such as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's "Nuthin' But a `G' Thang."
"The West Coast phenomenon spread across the country. Now there's probably not a corner in the United States that doesn't have them," Marriott said. "People can even have jewelry made like their rims. I've seen people with spinner jewelry."
"Rims have taken on cultural value. Like a Prada bag, it sets status in the community," said Robert J. Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University in New York. "If you have them, you're of a higher status."
Jason Gordon, 27, a buyer and manager at Playmakers, an athletic shoe store in Milwaukee, recently paid $3,000 for a set of KMC Kingpin 20-inch chrome rims to go on his 2002 teal Pontiac Grand Prix.
"I wanted to set my car apart from other Grand Prixs," Gordon said. "I got these rims because there was a lot of chrome on them. I just pictured them being real shiny and glossy."
Buying the rims didn't signify to Gordon that he'd made it in life; nor was he trying to create a status for himself, he said. It was a matter of treating himself.
They're not worth his life, though.
"If held at gunpoint, they can have my car. I'll give it up in a heartbeat," Gordon said. "But I have OnStar, so whatever they plan on doing with it, they better do it fast."
Mr. Stereo in Milwaukee is a well-known car accessory store that sells more than 100 styles of chrome rims from 30 designers.
"The most popular rims are 20- and 22-inches," said Sam Saed, store manager. "We've seen an increase in purchases in the five years I've been here."
The most popular rims are the Davins and the Sprees, known as "Latrell Sprewells" or spinners, Saed said.
Sprewell, a former Washington High School basketball standout in Milwaukee and now a Minnesota Timberwolves guard, owns several rim shops on the West Coast. His rims are tricked up with a rotating attachment that continues spinning after the car comes to a stop.
Thompson said as people continue to buy these pricey rims, their vehicle becomes a "portable identity."
"It's like clothes, only a second outer layer," he said.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment by clicking here.