In a perfect world law enforcement is equitable, color blind, and absent a religious bias. That perfect world does not exist in Washington DC, particularly when it comes to traffic enforcement. Please note I am not talking about stopping cars because the driver is black, brown or white. My complaint is specifically aimed at Washington's unofficial policy concerning parking tickets. On any given Sunday, one can drive by a church in the District and be witness to hundreds of cars illegally stowed...some directly beneath signs that declare "No Parking at Any Time." And none, none, of the vehicles are ever ticketed. Go figure. I guess the mayor and city council have an informal agreement with leaders in the Christian community...and I would bet a similar handshake is not in place with the Muslim or Jewish congregations.
Let's be clear about the situation I confront as a resident of Washington DC. According to the Washington Post, the District issues about 1.5 million tickets a year. The Post notes this is more than triple the number of parking tickets issued in Baltimore. In fact, the Post goes on to argue, "parking control officers in the District--population 600,000--write about half as many tickets as those in the city of Los Angeles--population 4 million." You read that correctly, Washington DC is the parking ticket capitol of the nation.
And the situation is only going to get worse. While the city council finds it impossible to maintain sidewalks, sewers, or schools, it has no problem purchasing and fielding the most modern parking enforcement equipment available. A case in point, parking enforcement cameras attached to street sweepers. The cameras are intended to photograph vehicles that have not been moved for street sweeping--and thus collect an additional 237,000 fines over the course of any given year. That's another $7 million in the city's pocket that will be spent to pay more parking control officers.
Yup, in 2009 the DC Council agreed to hire 45 more parking control officers--a 25% increase in that element of the law enforcement community. These new officers are expected to generate an additional $12.6 million in revenue by targeting late night culprits and nonresident parking violators...except on Sundays. On Sundays, as long as you appear to be headed for a church, you can park anywhere you damn well please without fear of meeting any of the new law enforcement staff. Guess they are all in church as well...strongly suggesting this unofficial waiver is intended to only benefit Christians. Hmmmm...isn't that a violation of the Constitution?
You remember the Constitution, that pesky little document that serves as the foundation for our particular form of democracy. Well, the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights attached to the Constitution reads as follows: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
If that seems confusing, perhaps a quote from Justice Hugo Black will help clarify the Founders intentions. In Everson vs. Board of Education (1947), Justice Black held:
"The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa."
I particularly like the last sentence of Justice Black's argument. There can be no secret agreements between a government and any religion. Now I can't find the Christian parking clause in District of Columbia Official Code, so one can only conclude the Sunday parking exemption is a secret handshake that specifically benefits a particular faith. Don't believe me? Go ask your Muslim friends about the parking situation on Fridays or ask a Jewish friend about tickets issued on a Saturday. I already know the answer. They get tickets...and towed when the vehicle is left beneath a sign that explicitly rules against "Parking at Any Time."
Now, I'm no attorney. But it appears to me that the District of Columbia is quietly abetting selective law enforcement in violation of the First Amendment. Too bad one of the approximately 35,000 lawyers residing in or around the District does not have the time to take on this issue. By eliminating the Sunday exclusion clause the District could pull in even more revenue...and perhaps generate the money necessary for repairing sidewalks, sewers, and schools. But that's just me thinking out loud.
In the mean time, I have a plan. I am no longer going to pay District parking tickets. I refuse to participate in a system that clearly violates the Constitution and reinforces the perception law enforcement does not have to be conducted in an equitable manner. I like to think I'm engaged in a bit of civil disobedience, but that's an awfully highfaluting title for a simple act of citizen outrage. If you live in the District or outside feel free to join the campaign. When the traffic courts are jammed with peeved citizens of other faiths perhaps the District Council will decide it is time to act....and have law enforcement issue parking tickets on Sunday.