Thursday, July 10, 2008

I AM NOT A LAWYAH!




And I’m not Dcup , who is much more trenchant and insightful on politics (and most things) than I am. She has kindly agreed to allow me to link to her post regarding a traffic stop and to present a slightly different interpretation. Professor Ovetz, and perhaps many others, see this traffic stop as a violation of First Amendment rights and another example of the attack on free speech. I think it was just a traffic stop. I don’t know the police officer involved here, but I would be willing to place a substantial bet that he A. Didn’t care what the bumper sticker said and B. Wishes that he’d pulled over the guy with the expired plates instead.

Knowing what I do about police officers (I’m married to one, and know plenty of others), I think that this particular officer was completely in earnest when he made the Star Wars reference. Does this mean that I think that police officers are incapable of irony, or subtle wit, or understanding a complex political idea? No, no, and no. It means that through training and experience, most of the smartest police officers have learned to present a blandly neutral façade to the public. They have no choice. If a police officer attempts to discuss, or debate, or disagree with a citizen, it’s a certainty that he or she will be asked for a badge number and then reported for disrespect, or abuse of authority, or brutality. So, faced with the (stupid) question “would you ticket me if the sticker said “Yes to Empire”, this officer very wisely decided to pretend that the word “empire” was a Star Wars reference. Two things are thus accomplished: the officer avoids a pointless and unwinnable argument, and a smug and arrogant professor can dine out for weeks on the philistine stupidity of jackbooted glorified security guards who are incapable of understanding a concept that veers outside the realm of popular culture.

The back window regulation is actually pretty common. Most jurisdictions do have an ordinance that prohibits stickers or other obstructions in the back window. And why put a bumper sticker in the back window anyway? Why not on the bumper? That’s why it’s called a bumper sticker. I wondered, when I read the Alternet piece, if the sticker was STUCK on the window, or was it inside the window, displayed as a placard? Just an aside; I find it hilarious when a person is passionate enough about an idea that he’s compelled to obtain a bumper sticker that expresses his viewpoint, but not passionate enough to actually STICK the sticker to the car. “NO to EMPIRE” or “Not Altogether Sold on the idea of Empire”?

Regardless of placement, though, is the bumper sticker the most deadly weapon when one is fighting the power? When you place the “No to Empire” sticker in your back window, are you thinking that possibly, just possibly, the Secretary of Defense, or the CEO of Halliburton, will see that bumper sticker, and say “holy crap, we’re done for! NO to EMPIRE? The people have spoken, we’d better move on to plan B, and stat!” He picks up his phone, starts making some calls, and just like that, word is out among the titans of the military-industrial complex, who now know that Professor Ovetz is pretty peeved about the whole war/profiteering/imperialism thingy…peeved enough that he’s GOT A BUMPER STICKER! The jig’s up! No more giant defense contracts! No more Homeland Security! No more incursions! Damn professors and their bumper stickers! Well, it was good while it lasted, but now I guess we’ll have to devote all of our considerable resources to alternative energy and early childhood education. All because of these meddling kids.

There are plenty of things to be outraged about; plenty of injustices to rail against, plenty of wrongs that need to be righted. If the professor had been ticketed for a bumper sticker that was stuck to his actual bumper, I’d be outraged too. If he’d been arrested for carrying a picket sign at a lawful demonstration, I’d write a letter to my Congressman. If he was roughed up by the TSA for acting a little goofy in a security line, I would once again abandon my long-cherished dream of making hijack jokes in an airport, just to see what would happen. But I just cannot summon righteous outrage over a ticket for a violation of a common and pretty reasonable ordinance, and I cannot accept the disingenuous claim that the ticket was intended to do anything but meet that officer’s obligation to enforce that ordinance.

(PS—Professor? If you really want to say NO to EMPIRE, you probably want to ride the bus).

16 comments:

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

I read the article and I agree with you. Prof is blowing a lot of hot air.

I've never been a bumper sticker gal, but last year in a fit of post-Maui vacation insantity I put a sparkly, hot pink hibiscus flower sticker on my hatchback window. I don't know why I bought it in the first place. It looks really stupid, but it's still there.

I'm going to remove it now that I know I might get a ticket ;)

CDP said...

Lady--I'd like to have Maui-induced insanity.

DCup said...

I bet if I asked my brother the cop about this, he'd have the same reaction you did. I didn't ask him because he gets really tired of me asking him questions about police activities. The last time we spoke about something like this, he informed me that the bigger issue is how police are writing more tickets to help offset budget deficits due to higher fuel costs. If we want some police presence, we have to pay for it one way or another.

I was somewhat surprised that the professor didn't know about the bumper sticker in the window law, but then I've never heard of anyone being pulled over for those hideous "W" stickers they all had in the back windows of their SUVs all over Georgia.

Either way, I think the police officer really didn't get this guy for his message. I think he was probably very sincere when he made the Star Wars comment.

On to the next outrage.....great post!

CDP said...

Dcup--living where you live, I'm surprised that you weren't fined or imprisoned for not displaying a W sticker. Are you sure you didn't, just as a cover?

The thing is that most cops I know (granted, this is a pretty liberal community) are not at all conservative (except on guns and the death penalty). And I bet your brother's right, too; I bet that there is increased enforcement to increase revenue (my husband's not on patrol anymore, but I'll ask him if he's heard that).

enc said...

What a mess over a sticker!

Freida Bee said...

I have to say that I think the officers retort rather clever. Maybe the professor's just a little sore he couldn;t think of his own witty remark.

In the case of the window sticker. Hasn't that professor heard the oldest saying in the Empire's book, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse?"

CDP said...

enc--I know! Find a real injustice, you know?

FriedaBee--Ha! He totally should have said that!

pistols at dawn said...

I've officially become one of those people who when they're young, wants to fight the man all the time, and now, is like, "Really? All the issues in the world, and we're worried about a bumper sticker?"

Here's my analysis: is there a law preventing bumper stickers on your windshield? If yes, then shut up. If no, then make your little speech, invite your 14 Bay Area vegan friends to a protest no one else cares about, and playact your little "I'm important" scenes, then move on with your life.

CDP said...

Pistols--exactly! That's the part I can't really get over (other than the part that sympathizes with my husband who had to listen to all kinds of stupid complaints when he was a patrol officer)...that there are people in the world who are sick, or hungry, or homeless, and THIS is what this guy is outraged over.

Dr. Zaius said...

If the law says that you are not supposed to put stuff in the window, then the Professor will lose the case. There is no way to prove that the cop did not like the message of the sticker. I am sure that it is legal for the Professor to wear the sticker on his forehead if he wants to.

CDP said...

Dr Z--and what's wrong with a T-shirt, right? That's even better than a bumper sticker, because you can wear the message even when you're out of the car! Now if he gets arrested for wearing a "No to Empire" tshirt, I'll accept his claim that his First Amendment rights are being violated (unless, of course, he wears the tshirt with no pants, or he wears the tshirt while he's robbing a bank...)

Worker Mommy said...

Really ? A sticker obstructing his view. I suppose I don't quite understand that as typically bumper stickers are rather small...that said I think there are much bigger things to raise hell about

Spartacus said...

I'm with you on this one CDP. Given the state of affairs with the current administration trampling on The Bill of Rights, I don't think this incident classifies as one of them. Like you, I know a few cops who probably would have let this guy go with a warning if he agreed to move the sticker. However, it's clear that his belligerence did him in.

CDP said...

WM--that's the real issue for me; of all the injustice to rail about, the ticket over the bumper sticker doesn't qualify

Spartacus--Not knowing the officer involved, I'm still willing to bet that he didn't read the bumper sticker or care what it said.

Anonymous said...

the article failed to mention that the other sticker on his car was "nader/gonzalez'08"
matt gonzalez was a san francsico city supervisor and was 1.5 points from being the current mayor of san francisco. the article did not mention that the police here do not like him. there's your motivation. bad cop, no donut.

CDP said...

Anon--the article seemed clearly in favor of Professor Ovetz' view, so why would it not mention the presence of the other bumper sticker? And good one on the donut! It's not often that one hears a cop/donut joke. Well done.

All material on this blog copyright CDP 2007-2010 unless otherwise noted.