The town I live in, like many communities, (and like me) has a hard time making ends meet. Our mayor has decided to reject the time honored way of increasing revenues by raising taxes, thereby avoiding a revolt that would result in people throwing their horse feed and other food staples into the Obion River.
I think we are missing a real opportunity to put our town on the map. What event catapulted Boston into a world renowned city? Everyone knows that until the famous Boston Tea Party, Boston was simply known as a city where people talk funny.
McKenzie could be transformed as a result of The Obion River Revolt. News media would stumble all over themselves to cover the event. Matt Lauer could do a remote broadcast, dressed appropriately in chest waders and plaid shirt, with a fifty pound sack of horse feed on his shoulder.
(cue Matt Lauer): “I’m standing here on the bank of the Obion River outside McKenzie, Tennessee, as people here are fed up with high taxes.”
An audible grunt is heard as Matt shifts uncomfortably under the weight of the bag of horse feed.
(cue Meredith Viera): “Matt, this is Viera. That’s an unusual ensemble you are wearing. Is it a Christian Dior design?”
An involuntary grunt escapes Matt just as he replies, so that it ends up sounding like, “Pery punny, Vihera.”
His reddening face, coupled with his efforts to give his t.v. smile, make him look a little like the horned-red-faced emoticon of hotmail.
Anyway, you get the picture. This could become a tourist bonanza for us. But, instead, our mayor has chosen to turn to technology to raise revenue.
Like the King of Nottingham, she has hired a cold, heartless, outside enforcer to frisk any resident or passing citizen. It is a gray-one-eyed Traffic Camera. Actually, she has hired a posse of them (six to be exact).
This method of raising city revenues is sweeping across not only the United States but Western Europe as well. (There is enough graft and corruption left from the days of communist rule that Eastern Europe hasn’t had to turn to this new fangled method.)
People here have been up in arms about this electronic posse. Letters to the Editor have scorched the pages of our weekly newspaper.
I’ve found these letters quite entertaining and much ado about nothing. I mean, if you break the law, you should be punished. Right? The incontrovertible evidence of being caught “red handed” on camera can’t be argued with.
All this was entertaining UNTIL the day I opened a letter from the city addressed to me and my wife. Inside was a letter with a picture of the posterior of my car at a traffic light. The letter informed me that my wife and I were being fined $50.00 for not coming to a complete stop before turning right on red. The date and time of the offense was stamped on the letter.
My first thought was, how can a still photograph prove that you were moving? I won’t have to pay this thing.
I reread the letter and noticed that there was a website provided by the true owners of this one-eyed highway robber. It said I could see a video of the crime.
I pulled up the website on my laptop. I watched intently as my car came into view. It slowed at the red light, but in truth, did not stop before turning right. Guilty as charged!
Over the next few days I stewed about having to pay $50.00. Then I looked at the letter again. I noted the date and time. It was then that I realized that it could not have been me driving the car at that exact time. I asked my wife about her whereabouts at the moment of infraction and she said it could not have been her either.
Suddenly the complexion of things changed. Neither the still camera shot nor the video showed who was actually driving the car. I had had the false assumption that when the camera took pictures of offenders, the actual offender would be clearly seen.
How could I be charged with a crime I did not commit?
I decided to fight city hall.
Like Clarence Darrow I began preparing for my day in court, researching extensively and making notes on a legal pad.
Amendment Six – the right to face your accusers.
Innocent until proven guilty vs guilty until proven innocent.
What about due process?
No one actually “saw” the alleged crime.
My day in court couldn’t arrive quickly enough for me. To her credit, my wife decided to accompany me to the showdown.
My first surprise was the large number of people who were assembled in the courtroom. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only person who had offended the local legal code.
Several people were guilty of traffic infractions. One by one they approached the bar. Each time the officer who had ticketed them testified to the veracity of said charges and the offenders were allowed to question the officer.
Each of them was offered the option of paying a fine or attending driving school. By attending driving school their record would be clear, their fine would be waived, and insurance rates wouldn’t go up.
Another case involved a lady who was charged with not keeping her yard tidy enough to suit the establishment. But discussing that would require another entire article.
The judge then called the names of me and my wife. With legal pad in hand we approached the bar.
Looking over the top of his glasses, the judge spoke. “Mr. Johnson you’ve been charged with violating the red light law. I assume by your presence here you wish to contest the charge.”
“Your honor, contest is such a combative word. I prefer to say that I’m looking for a little clarification and better understanding,” I reply.
The judge sets aside his papers and leans back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head. “Then maybe I can help provide some clarification. Why don’t you ask your questions and I’ll see if I can answer them.”
I open my folder and refer to my notes. “Your honor let me say first that neither my wife nor I are guilty of a crime. It is impossible for either of us to have been in my car at the date and time of the offense.”
The judge sits forward and looks at some papers. He asks me if it is my car that is in the photograph.
“Yes it is. I’m not denying that. I’m denying that either I or my wife is driving it.”
The judge takes his glasses off and leans back again. “Mr. Johnson, I think I can clear this matter up, if I sense where you are going with your argument.
“You are not being charged with a criminal offense. This is a civil offense. And the Tennessee Attorney General and appeals court have ruled that in civil cases that specifically apply to traffic cameras that the person who owns the car is liable for what their car does.”
It takes me a minute to realize that he is actually serious. “So what you are saying, your honor, is that my car is guilty of a crime and that I am responsible for what my car does?”
“That is correct, Mr. Johnson.”
“Then don’t take this wrong your honor, but I don’t think much of that.” I close my folder and proceed from the courtroom.
After digesting all this for a couple of days, I have now decided upon two responses.
The first is to enroll my car in traffic school.
The second is to take a photograph of a fifty dollar bill and mail it to City Hall.