I’m infuriated to read of the cavalier attitude of Lambeth Council, in south London, England. They decided they were going to make a portion of road, previously open to parking, into a no-parking zone. They duly hired contractors to paint a double yellow line on it. The contractors arrived, only to find the car of Ms. Ruth Ducker already parked there. No problem – they brought in a crane, physically lifted the car out of the way, painted the new no-parking lines, and then replaced Ms. Ducker’s car on top of the no-parking zone!
To make things worse, an hour or two later, along came another contractor – this one charged with enforcing Lambeth Council’s road ordinances. Of course, they saw a car ‘illegally parked’ – and had it towed! In doing so, they ignored a specific Council instruction that new no-parking zones were not to be ticketed or enforced until the following day.
Poor Ms. Ducker came looking for her car, only to find it vanished without trace. She knew it had probably not been stolen, because she removes the battery from it whenever she parks it in that spot: and the new no-parking lines gave her a clue as to what might have happened. However, on inquiry, Lambeth Council blandly denied any knowledge of her car. It took them two full weeks to confess that they had it – and then they demanded over £800 (over US $1,300) in fines and penalties before they would release it!
Furious, Ms. Ducker refused to pay, and set about sorting out the bureaucratic bungle. Enlisting the help of her Member of Parliament finally did the trick, but only after interest and other penalties had ballooned the amount Lambeth Council was demanding she pay to £2,240 (over US $3,600). Faced with such high-level intervention, the Council bureaucrats finally gave in, canceled the fines and penalties, and returned her car – but offered only £150 (about US $240) in compensation for the weeks she’d been without her car, the additional trouble and expense she’d incurred, and their total waste of her time.
This sort of bureaucratic arrogance and bungling seems to be growing in frequency, not just in England, but also here in the USA. Witness the experience of a pastor and his wife in San Diego, CA just this week. They were interrogated by a county official because they hold bible studies in their home, and threatened with action unless they halted the practice. As the couple’s lawyer quite reasonably points out:
“If the county thinks they can shut down groups of 10 or 15 Christians meeting in a home, what about people who meet regularly at home for poker night? What about people who meet for Tupperware parties? What about people who are meeting to watch baseball games on a regular basis and support the Chargers?”
I can understand concern about several dozen or more people meeting in a residential home, crowding streets that aren’t meant to accommodate that number of visiting vehicles: but to target a small Bible study group like that makes no sense at all. It’s bureaucratic power-madness.
The same attitude is evident even at the highest levels of our government. Witness the Administration’s blatant attempt to strong-arm bondholders of Chrysler into accepting far less than is their legal right in current bankruptcy proceedings. Witness proposals by one Congressional representative to ban anyone on the ‘no-fly list’ from owning a firearm. These individuals have, in most cases, never even been notified that they’re on the list, much less convicted of any offence. No-one knows why their names appear on the list, because no reasons are given – yet, without any trial or conviction, this representative appears quite happy to strip them of a Constitutionally-guaranteed right!
This sort of bureaucratic, ‘we-know-better-than-you’ arrogance is growing more and more intrusive. The trouble is, every time we tolerate it, we condone such abuses, and inevitably open the way for their extension into new areas. Witness the growth in ‘intoxication roadblocks’ by many municipal and county law enforcement agencies. Sure, it sounds innocuous, even praiseworthy. After all, who wants to allow drunk drivers on our roads? Trouble is, it doesn’t stop there. Instead of merely checking for intoxication, it becomes a license, registration and insurance check: and then it progresses to questions about what you’ve been doing, or what you may have in your car. Refuse to answer, and many police will claim that gives them ‘probable cause’ to be suspicious – perhaps even search your car. This is nothing more or less than a ‘fishing expedition’.
To my mind, such tactics are a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. (I know that many ‘good’ cops, including my friend Matt, agree with me on that point.) I won’t tolerate such abuses myself, and have refused to respond to such questions or permit such searches when stopped at such roadblocks – only to be accused of ‘not co-operating’, or ‘obstructionism’. Like hell! If I exercise a Constitutional right, that’s not obstructionism at all. In each such case that I’ve encountered, I’ve advised the officers concerned that if they wish to proceed, they do so without my consent, and I will take legal action against them and their departments for violation of civil rights if they do. Guess what? Every time, they’ve backed down. What they’re doing is illegal, and they know it – but because so few people complain about it, they’ve grown accustomed to getting away with it.
I forget who it was who said these words, but they’ve stuck in my mind for years.
Unless they’re exercised, they atrophy.”
Truer words were never spoken! It’s high time those who use their bureaucratic powers to try to walk roughshod over us, and ignore our rights, were slapped down. After all, they’re not called ‘public servants’ for nothing. Perhaps it’s long overdue for them to be reminded of that status! If all of us did so, I daresay things would soon take a turn for the better. The longer we remain docile and unprotesting, the more these unelected, accountable-to-no-one autocrats will believe they can get away with such conduct.