“Today’s the Fourth of July. Another June has gone by. When they light up our town I just think what a waste of gunpowder and sky.” That was Aimee Mann. The opening of her song “4th of July” matches my holiday mood. It’s not a day of celebration for me.
Where is our yellow vest movement? When the French government lowered speed limits and raised gas taxes crowds filled the streets. They destroyed speed cameras. They got worldwide attention. And they’re winning.
Hong Kong residents joined a week of mass protests over an extradition bill that would affect a handful of people. A tenth of the population turned out. They got worldwide attention. And they’re winning.
Last night I read the latest news in a case challenging illegal speed traps in Hingham, Massachusetts. A lawyer tried to convince a federal judge that the town’s actions “shocked the conscience.” That’s a term of art for extreme conduct that allows a federal judge to intervene against state actions. The judge’s conscience was not shocked. “Violations of state law — even where arbitrary, capricious, or undertaken in bad faith — do not, without more, give rise to a denial of substantive due process.” Illegal speed traps are not shocking. The presumption of guilt in traffic court is not shocking either. As long as the driver has an opportunity to present evidence, that’s good enough.
The officials responsible may yet be asked to stop, but they will face no consequences.
Massachusetts RMV released some license suspension statistics this week. On top of over 10,000 suspensions for being poor, the RMV suspended 537 licenses in May without giving the victims a chance to tell their side of the story. If you get caught in a speed trap you can beg a magistrate to have mercy on you. If you run down a pedestrian you can beg a judge to have mercy on you. But if you annoy a cop, the rule is suspend first and ask questions later. We’re not winning. It’s going to get worse. After a fatal crash the RMV is taking a lot of heat for not being quick enough on the trigger. They’d rather suspend a million licenses for no reason than be blamed again.
Should our consciences be shocked? Can’t we expect government officials to obey the law?
“Expect” is a flexible word. When Nelson expected every man to do his duty, it was an order. More often it’s a prediction.
In Connecticut there’s an illegal speed limit sign that was posted specifically so police could pull over somebody I know. I’ve seen my town’s officials plot obstruction of justice to keep an illegal stop sign.
I don’t expect-as-prediction towns to obey the law or the RMV to care about civil rights, but I certainly expect-as-aspiration them to. I want them held accountable. Prison. Fines. Personal financial liability. A 19% cut in salary backdated to the beginning of time. Anything but nothing.
Somebody eulogizing my town’s former police chief recalled the time people got parking tickets and the chief blamed a State Police officer who didn’t understand that town laws are not meant to be enforced against residents. There’s the problem. We have a set of laws for residents and another set of laws for nonresidents. A set of laws for people who look respectable and another set of laws for people who look like trouble. There’s a huge gap between what people really want and what government officials do, and it’s kept open by selective enforcement.
If police enforced every little traffic law to the letter we’d be back in 1776. If you drive 21 in a 20, stop an inch over the line, turn right after signaling for only 199 feet instead of 200 that could be enough to take your license away. That’s ten seconds of driving. Every person who drives would have a license suspension after the first day. If one in 20 of those turned out with torches and pitchforks the government would flee for its lives.
Another themed song I listened to today was Martina McBride’s “Independence Day”. It’s about an abused wife who takes matters into her own hands.
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