Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I Fought the Law. Who Won?

In my nearly 30 years in New York City I have found one of the norms we take pride in is that pedestrians and cyclists are trusted to do their best to cross the streets safely despite a traffic system favoring cars rather than those who use more environmentally friendly ways to travel. As I shared last summer, I received a ticket in Manhattan for jay biking. I had never heard of anyone in Manhattan getting a ticket on bike or foot when operating safely and responsibly. Such actions sadden me as they deepen the relationship issues citizens already have with a police force that doesn’t feel like a part of the community, but rather like outsiders who are not looking out for the best interests of citizens.  You can read more of my take at Relationships, Not Fines, Lead to Great Schools + Communities.

My friend who was ticketed with me lived out of state, so he plead guilty online to the $278 jay biking ticket that came with points on your license. He told me when he did, he found the fine was reduced automatically for bikes to $190 and points removed.  

I had a decision to make. Do I pay this ticket penalizing me for what any non-tourist does every day in Manhattan or do I have my day in court and speak to a judge about this disturbing practice.

I decided that as uncomfortable as it might be, I would stand before a judge. Here is what happened and what I learned.
I fought the law for a fine that does not help citizens or communities.
No cell phones are allowed.  Thank goodness someone told me this shortly in advance. I had my prepared testimony and photo on a cell phone. I transferred it to a tablet and also put my ideas to paper (not pretty) in case tables were banned.  I didn’t have a printer for my photo of the empty street, so I hoped they would look at that on a tablet. I also hoped they’d let me use my tablet for prepared statements.  This is the 21st century after all.  When my name was called, I was told I could email my photo to be printed out. My case received a five minute recess while I emailed my photo. I was allowed to use my tablet for notes.  

The officer said his remarks. Some people said, to hope that he didn't show. I learned that even if he didn’t show up, his report would stand as his testimony. Regardless, I also learned that these days police officers generally show up because it’s easier to come to court than patrol the streets.

Next was my turn.  Here is what I said in four minutes.

My Testimony:
Thank you for listening to me today. I am asking this ticket be moved to a dismissal or warning.

I have been a member of this community as an educator and resident for 20 years. It is my passion to serve, protect, and support the students, staff and parents of our schools. Serving, protecting, and supporting are the cornerstones necessary to build trust and strengthen relationships that make a community strong,

The ticket issued to me was not issued with the intent of serving, protecting, supporting, or strengthening community or relationships. In fact such citations are harmful to a community and make it less safe. Here is my story.

I was leisurely riding home from volleyball with two friends.  I do my best to ride on streets with bike lanes and few cars.  I was in luck riding home. The streets were empty and I didn’t have to ride with traffic. As we crossed each street my friend would let us know if there were cars and my other friend and I also looked.

I crossed a clear and empty street.  I have a picture that I would like to submit as evidence showing there were no cars on the street that quiet day. (Note: This is where I used the picture that was emailed to the clerk.)

A few moments later I saw a police car with lights pull into the bike lane.

I rode over to the car. I thought there might be a problem in the neighborhood he wanted to alert us to. Maybe there was a fire, lost child, or dog.

I was surprised when the officer said he was giving a ticket for crossing an empty street to my friend who told us the street was clear. Then he explained a ticket was not being given to my other friend. She forgot her license and he said since she was just crossing because she was being waved through, she would not be fined. I had my license. The same protocol did not apply to me.  

The reason I would like your consideration for a dismissal is as follows.
Crossing empty streets on foot or bike is a community norm. Unlike in Los Angeles where I lived for several years, people in New York City are trusted to have the critical thinking ability to cross streets where there is not traffic.  When it comes to a bike, not only is this smart, but research indicates it is also safer for cyclists not to ride among traffic.  

My actions were in the best interest of the safety of a cyclists. The policeman parking in a bike lane to issue a fine did not help with anyone’s safety. Instead it endangered cyclists. In fact, police parking in bike lanes has become such an issue, that there is a Twitter account called @CopsinBikeLanes with thousands of posts and followers.  

I am a model citizen. Aside from jury duty, this is my first time to stand in a NY court. I am asking you to consider dismissing this ticket knowing I acted in the best interest of safety and responsibility. I hope you understand that serving and protecting citizens should not include blocking a lane created to do just that.

I hope in your ruling you will agree that law enforcement should focus on fining and punishing those who are making our community less safe. I hope you will agree that going after an easy target is not the answer to serving, protecting, building trust, or strengthening community relationships.I hope you will also acknowledge the practice of endangering citizens to fine them is not in the best interest of citizens or communities. I also hope you would agree that law enforcement should not disregard long-standing community norms.

Thank you for hearing my testimony.

Her response:
I have heard the testimony of you and the police officer. You are guilty as charged and will incur the full fine. Please go to the service counter to pay your fine.

Lesson learned:
I was mistaken. I thought law enforcement was more than following rules. I thought serving, protecting, and developing and strengthening community relationships also had its place. It does not. Police have no constitutional responsibility to serve and protect. The job of officers today is to place all that aside and simply impose one-size-fits-all fines and punishment to easy targets. Yet another area where the human element has effectively been taken away from communities and replaced instead with a Stepford workforce that places little value on the voice or concerns of those who live in the communities they serve.

1 comment:

  1. There may come a day in the not so distant future where a "conversational user interface" bot may be able to help you. According to a recent article in Fortune titled 'As Bots Rise Up, Some Level the Playing Field' dated 5/21/16, there is a bot named DoNotPay. It uses a chat interface powered by machine learning to work through details of each user’s situation regarding a NYC parking ticket. It was interesting to read how the law (and other things) can be codified and utilized in a bot interface by a human.