We Are Winning One Battle Against The Police State

If you’re even somewhat engaged in the less-than-mainstream news, it’s difficult to crack open a laptop without reading about how this country is becoming a police state and the evidence is strong, especially if you are a person of color.

One big problem is the amount of surveillance law abiding citizens are subjected to every single day. While the numbers of cameras on street corners are increasing, one type of camera is becoming less prevalent: traffic cameras.

The traffic cam programs, despite accomplishing all of the goals of law enforcement, including fatal crashes and yes, revenue, are very unpopular with the people and we are letting politicians know and in turn, they are slowly disappearing.

On Dec. 16, New Jersey’s Department of Transportation ended a five-year trial program after Republican Governor Chris Christie chose not to renew it, directing local governments that had participated to disconnect the systems and take down warning signs “as soon as is practicable.” A few days later, Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, signed a bill requiring towns to post officers alongside cameras to witness traffic violations, a rule intended to make it too expensive for local governments to continue camera programs. “There’s some evidence that perhaps they do promote safety,” says Bill Seitz, the Republican state senator who argued that Ohio’s camera program amounted to an unfair levy on drivers, some of whom found themselves cited for making legal right turns on red lights. “The costs outweigh the benefits, and the revenue-enhancement feature of this predominates over safety.”

Other areas have canceled camera programs targeting speed-limit scofflaws. In December, Long Island’s Nassau County pulled speed cameras from school zones. They’d produced more than 400,000 tickets in just two months but triggered a public outcry. “The program angered residents to a point where it was outweighing the improved safety,” says Cristina Brennan, a spokeswoman for Norma Gonsalves, presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature. Neighboring Suffolk County announced it was scrapping plans to install speed cameras near schools in 2015. Speed cameras are banned in at least a dozen states, according to the IIHS.

Source: Bloomberg.com

While this is a great piece of news to those concerned about civil rights, traffic cams are in one way very democratic. Traffic cams see no skin color. They see no economic class. A CEO is just as likely to receive a ticket in the mail as a store clerk.

On the other hand, cities have been using traffic cams as a source of revenue and there’s nothing democratic about that. While that CEO might see it as a minor nuisance, made up by the minute or two saved by running a red light, to the store clerk, it can represent several hours pay.

In most states, public services are largely paid by property taxes and revenue collected by law enforcement.

Regardless of anyone’s feelings on traffic cams, the takeaway is that politicians are not out of reach. If enough people get angry, they listen. The problem is that people only get angry when something directly affects them. As long as law enforcement primarily targets people of color and people of limited means, the majority of people simply won’t care enough to get involved.

Featured image via Wikipedia.