When I first learned that the red light, speeding, and school zone cameras were to be erected around Chicago I was in favor of the idea. What better way to plug the city’s budget deficit than fining people who were actually breaking the law. My thinking continued that it should force everyone to be more conscientious drivers. The fact that it wouldn’t affect driving records or insurance premiums made it seem all the more innocuous. Besides, as a good driver who has never had a ticket, I appreciated not being the target of a government revenue program for once.
And then I realized I was very much the target. It turns out that the city wasn’t after just the scofflaws that were driving recklessly, ignoring signs, and putting people’s lives in danger. They were after every penny they could squeeze from this new resource. In situations that would have generated no tickets in the past – like a pattern of traffic where everyone is driving a bit above the limit – the City can now efficiently issue a ticket to everyone. In school zones when no children are present, no real cop would ever pull a driver over, but robot cameras can facelessly issue tickets to everyone who passes through. As for the appeal process? There is one and you are encouraged to follow the process. A few weeks later, you will get a nondescript “NOPE!” (and an implied “HA HA!”)
No, the red light cameras were not erected to segregate taxation between the scofflaws and the lawful. They were erected with the assumption that every citizen is presumed guilty and any punishment the City chooses to heap upon them is deserved.
Interestingly, this revelation parallels the one I have gone through with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I was a pretty big support of Rahm up front. I liked the idea of a guy waking up every morning with a list of whose ass he was going to kick that day. It struck me that there were a lot of bad guys in politics around here and on the City’s payroll and I was darned happy to have a fighter coming in to bop some of them in the nose, get rid of others, and ebb the tide of corruption. Finally, a “my guy” I could vote for mayor.
But instead of putting his gumption to use to eliminate Madigan’s spending shenanigans he has used it to shove through a property tax that forces you and me to pay for more of them. He sort-of stood up to Karen Lewis, but lost to her PR machine and came out looking like a bully with no financial improvements to show for it. His hand-picked staff which should have been a Justice league of no-bullshit straight-shooters has been string of lightweights, buffoons, and hand-in-the-cookie-jar criminals.
Meanwhile, gun violence in four small south-side neighborhoods – Auburn Gresham, Grand Crossing, Chatam, and Englewood, approaches the level of countries at war. Four neighborhoods! Less than 5% of the City’s total area. How hard can it be to augment the police presence in such a small area to the point where the neighbors don’t shoot children? Certainly these are communities have many problems, but in the short-term, is there a reason why the Illinois National Guard can’t be used to stop the shooting?
I still think Rahm Emmanuel is a smart man, and I believe he wants Chicago to be a better place. But the voters need to be convinced that everything in between there and here is more than just a nuisance to him. A teacher’s strike, black people killing each other, and all us irritating citizens expecting something for our tax dollars need to be things he becomes passionate about. If he can’t do that, it’s going to be tough for any of us to see him as “my guy” next time around.