Peggy and I got simultaneous traffic tickets last week for running the same stop sign on our bikes. All we could figure was that the cops were inspired by the recent death of a bicyclist two blocks away. Since then, I have diligently stopped at every stop sign. I am the only bicyclist who I have seen do this, and the others look at me strangely as they go around. I resented the $257 (each) tickets. There are two sets of laws. One set is written in the books. The other set is the ones that are actually enforced. For example, Eugene has a law against car camping on public streets, but the cops won’t enforce it. Instead, they advise complainants to ask St. Vincent DePaul to come out and help the campers (St. Vincent’s has a city contract to do this). Personally, I don’t want to help street campers—I just want them gone.
Justified tickets are easier to accept than are tickets based upon the arbitrary power of the issuing officer. When I asked our cop why we were being singled out, he assured me that the traffic laws are always applied equally. I hold that lie against him infinitely more than I do the ticket, because I could see where the ticket might have come out of his desire to protect the public, but I couldn’t see how the lie came out of anything but his knowledge that he could bullshit me all he wanted, and I would have to stand there and take it for as long as he wanted. Being constrained under threat of violence to wait passively on the curb while a cop writes you a ticket is a mini jail sentence.
I set about trying to get our tickets reduced (by writing a letter to the judge) as soon as I got home. Peggy and I were supposed to sign below one of four paragraphs on the back of our tickets before I took them—along with my letter—downtown. These paragraphs were badly written to the point of having numerous grammatical errors, and neither of us could figure out whether we were supposed to sign below paragraph two or below paragraph three as they seemed to say pretty much the same thing. Two days and numerous tries later, we still hadn’t figured it out, so Peggy signed both paragraphs on the back of her ticket the morning she flew to Mississippi. Our plan was that I would find out which one she was supposed to have signed, and cross the other out.
When I asked the lady behind the counter at the municipal court which paragraph was the right paragraph, she said she was not qualified to offer legal advice and advised me to “seek the services of an attorney.” Of course, it was an attorney who wrote the stuff in the first place. Lawyers make money by making the law as incomprehensible as possible. Since they can’t agree among themselves what it says, still more lawyers have to be hired to take matters to court where lawyer-judges decide. Sometimes many lawyer-judges in many courts over many years are needed but the lawyers are okay with it since they are all making hundreds of dollars an hour. As I read on the back of a pre-folks t-shirt, “A lot of people are alive simply because killing them would land you in jail.”