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Tragic License

by Roger Lanctot | 7月 12, 2016

We’ve seen so many of the videos now (here in the U.S. and around the world) that the evening news has morphed into a prolonged episode of “Cops” exclusively featuring Black people being pulled over by police.  The routine of the routine traffic stop gone bad is always the same: a broken tail light, expired inspection sticker, or rolling stop leads to shouting, a drawn gun and, all too often, tragedy.

Richard Pryor joked 42 years ago on his third comedy album – the Grammy-Award-winning “That Nigger’s Crazy” – that White people getting pulled over simply exchange pleasantries with the police, accept their ticket and move on.  In Pryor’s world, the Black driver very loudly and clearly says to the police officer: “I am REACH-ING in my POCK-ET for my WALL-ET.  I don’t want to be no @#% accident.”

Pryor was giving his listeners a seminar in dealing with the police disguised as a comedy routine.  We laughed but it was no joke. 

Country singer Coffey Anderson has taken Pryor’s 42-year-old guidance up a notch with a video tutorial to help Black drivers (actually all drivers) respond appropriately when pulled over – including having wallet and ID on the dashboard and hands on the steering wheel with fingers pointed outward.

http://tinyurl.com/znqzhjq - “What to do When You Get Pulled Over” – Coffey Anderson, youtube.com

(For a good example of how these situations “go bad,” check out this story from Maryland of a driver who was ultimately exonerated of 10 charges this week following a traffic stop involving an officer with his gun drawn: http://tinyurl.com/goyc2gc - "Md. Charges Dropped after Gun Drawn in Traffic Stop (Video).”)

By now it seems clear that fewer traffic stops for minor offenses will mean fewer misunderstandings and less tragedy.  This is why multiple citizens groups are pleading for California Governor Jerry Brown to veto House Bill 516, which creates temporary license plates for new cars.  The temporary license plate protocol created by the bill, though an improvement on the folded up piece of paper currently given to new car buyers in California to be taped to the window, does not solve the problem of getting real license plates to new car owners.

The automobile is a sanctuary and the license plate can be an invitation to law enforcement to violate the sanctity of that sanctum.  In Virginia, where I live, new car buyers immediately get a brand new metal license plate at the time of vehicle purchsae.  Sadly, in California, this is not the case.

California still uses a system of dealer provided temporary paper documents intended to tide the owner of a new car over until the real license plates arrive.  Sometimes those plates never arrive subjecting the new car owner to unnecessary – and dangerous – traffic stops and interfering with tolling systems that scan license plates.

The California legislature has passed a bill AB 516 intended to correct the situation. The bill introduces temporary plates but leaves in place the role of the dealer, who may or may not file the paperwork in a timely manner thereby subjecting the new vehicle owner to sanctions and fines from police – and, in particular, introducing the risk of a dangerous traffic stop.

Rosemary …. Eloquently describes the shortcomings of the current legislation here:

http://tinyurl.com/h4awoyr - “Can’t Get Your Car Registered?  Stopped by Police?  You are Not Alone” – Rosemary Shahan, president, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Her organization and others are seeking a veto of AB 516 to correct its weaknesses.  The bottom line is that the current temporary license regime in California is flawed and is creating hardships for owners of new cars.

No one likes being pulled over in their car, regardless of the reason. 

Some dealers have even taken advantage of the delay in receiving new plates to call the car buyer back in to try to renegotiate the purchase price and terms.  The risk of car dealers manipulating consumers with yo-yo financing remains. Other serious problems with the bill that consumer and civil rights groups have been raising have also not been addressed.

The most serious flaw is that the bill exposes innocent consumers driving their cars with expired temporary license plates (through no fault of their own, as they never received their permanent plates because the car dealer or DMV failed to properly register the vehicle) to the increased probability of being pulled over by police and ticketed, having their car impounded, or perhaps worse.

Earlier this year, consumer groups and representatives of the CA Police Officers Association met with Assemblymember Mullin's staff to present specific amendment language to protect innocent car consumers. However, Mullin refused to accept the agreed-upon language -- likely caving in to pressure from the car dealers, who benefit when cars are impounded and they can get them back and resell them over and over again.

It’s time to veto HB 516 and send it back for revisions.  The veto request is supported by:

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area

California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation

Citizens United for a Responsible Budget (CURB)

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Consumer Federation of California

Law firm of Kemnitzer, Barron and Krieg

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