UPDATED: Anti-SUV Activists Claim ‘Strike’ on Upper East Side
Pffft, there goes car culture.
In an act of civil disobedience — or straight-up vandalism or criminal mischief — members of a shadowy anti-SUV group known as the Tyre Extinguishers have claimed responsibility for its first “strike” on American soil, last night on the Upper East Side: the deflation of the tires on three dozen SUVs in one of the richest neighborhoods in town.
A tweet from the group read as follows:
BIG NEWS: TYRE EXTINGUISHERS STRIKE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN NEW YORK CITY!
40 SUVs disarmed in the Upper East Side, the first of many.
— The Tyre Extinguishers (@T_Extinguishers) June 28, 2022
The group also issued the following statement and claims to have left a version of the statement on windshields after deflating the tires on the 40 SUVs in question:
The Tyre Extinguishers have disarmed SUVs in New York City for the first time, with 40 SUVs disarmed last night.
Using leaflets in American English (‘Tire’ rather than ‘Tyre’), 40 SUVs had their wheels deflated in the Upper East Side, home to the greatest concentration of individual wealth in NYC.
Starting initially in the UK, Tyre Extinguishers groups have sprung up in the UK, USA, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Sweden and New Zealand. In the UK, actions have taken place in London, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester.
This is the first action in New York City, the first of many.
The Tyre Extinguishers target SUVs because:
- SUVs are a climate disaster
- SUVs cause air pollution
- SUVs are dangerous
- SUVs are unnecessary
The Tyre Extinguishers want to see bans on SUVs in urban areas, pollution levies to tax SUVs out of existence, and massive investment in free, comprehensive public transport. But until politicians make this a reality, Tyre Extinguishers action will continue.
The group also issued a “How To” guide for others who wish to follow along (the key is to have a single lentil to slip under the tire cap). Legal experts say, however, that tampering with a driver’s vehicle — even if the damage is easily reparable — is illegal.
It is unclear if the group actually attacked on the Upper East Side; the neighborhood’s 19th and 17th precincts both told a Streetsblog reporter that they had gotten no reports from SUV owners of anything of the sort. (Update: A person responding for the group said it could provide time- and location-coded photographs to confirm that the action did indeed take place on the Upper East Side late on Thursday.)
The group’s spokesperson said that members of the strike force were inspired by European activists (which explains the British spelling for tires) and the book “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” (Verso, 2021), in which philosopher and activist Andreas Malm describes the practice, and his participation in it in Sweden in 2007. Malm believes such acts are an essential tool of civil disobedience against SUV owners for their disproportionate role in climate change.
The book also suggests that the current climate movement’s vow of absolute non-violence isn’t working and that it is time to shift to sabotage.
“When do we conclude that the time has come to also try something different?” Malm asks. “When do we start physically attacking the things that consume our planet and destroy them with our own hands? Is there a good reason we have waited this long?”
Activists in England have carried out that advice, according to The Conversation, which suggested that inconveniencing SUV drivers won’t get the change the activists seek.
“Our group is part of the global decentralized Tyre Extinguishers movement — spelled that way as it originated in the UK,” the spokesperson said, identifying the group as “Tire Extinguishers NYC.” “There has been known TE activity in the UK, US, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden and New Zealand so far.” The group announces news updates on a public Telegram channel.
It’s unclear if Tyre Extinguishers will gain a following here in New York, given the power of the car culture writ large, as well as the hostilities that individual drivers display towards any attempt to remind them of the negative externalities of their transportation choice.
“I certainly am sympathetic to the underlying reason for this action, but it’s probably not the greatest approach here,” said Eric McClure of StreetsPAC, the city’s sole political action committee dedicated to road safety. “Somebody is probably going to get hurt and that’s not a good thing. When I am walking around with people in New York City, I always tell them, ‘Never touch anyone’s car.'”
That said, McClure said the Tyre Extinguishers’ actions — and the threat of violent reaction to them — “underscore that we need policies to deal with the size and danger of personal vehicles on the streets of New York City.”
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.