“When you have one another you don’t need government.” — Russell Means
In the early days of last summer, I’m driving along minding my own business in my 1997 Mercury Villager near a little town called Northville, Michigan (about 25 miles from downtown Detroit). I’ve just finished a lazy Sunday workout at Planet Fitness, feeling fine, when I see a police sedan come up behind me flashing the red lights. My immediate thoughts are, “Geez, I wonder if they saw me dialing for Thai takeout on my cell?”
No such luck.
It’s a diminutive girl fuzz, and I get the feeling she’s new on the job from her nervous, officious manner.
Here’s the deal: Just before my dear mother died in late February, I transferred the title of the Villager to myself. But my driver’s license still says New Hampshire, and I haven’t decided whether to return to the Free State or stay in Michigan. Mom’s registration for the van is good ’til her birthday, October 6, and insurance is paid up through July. I’ve been really busy and traumatized in these days; just a weekend ago I’d held a memorial in Allegan at the cemetery where Mom’s cremains are interred. I figured the car could wait.
My common sense holds that the state has already got its pound of flesh in insurance and registration, so why should it care that I’m driving the van under a deceased person’s registration. To my mind, you register and insure cars, not people. Alas, the statist databases don’t work that way: When Officer Brunhilda—not her real name—lasers her magic twanger at my license plate, she gets a message on her dash computer: “Car not registered… driver a suspected terrorist and/or serial killer. Pull over and call for backup. Issue standby orders for armored vehicle, SWAT team, and/or drone strikes.”
I failed to mention the other two reasons I’ve put off getting Mom’s Villager registered in my name:
- When I was in the Free State, there was hearsay (in ~2006 via a NH liberty-biker friend) that NH law enforcement (LE) considered me a ‘person of interest’ following a conviction (in Michigan, 1999) for growing marijuana in a Phototron (1992). Long story, I wrote a book about it. Anyway, my friend said his LEO sources considered me a risk for gun and drug trafficking. [I am not making this up.] So now in the era of NDAA indefinite detention, I didn’t want to hand the Michigan Secretary of State my NH driver’s license and be rushed off into the ‘Disappeared’ line.
- Going to any state’s department of motor vehicles for anything whatsoever is like sitting thru a root canal, only with the additional pain of excruciating boredom.
As I explain the circumstances—show her the paid-up insurance and registration certificates—I can tell Brunhilda feels uncertain of her ground as an officer of Da Law… which in this case I have to believe a dimwitted attorney with an ounce of imagination can drive a Mack Truck through. I also insist that, really, my mother died a few months ago and I still have a lot to take care of, not to mention I’m broken up pretty bad on the inside.
I see the wheels of her little robot-noggin achurning: “Dammit, something came up on the computer! This man is a scofflaw, a casual enemy of authority, a menace to society. He must be punished.”
“I can take you to jail for this,” she says, for the third time. “You can’t drive an unregistered vehicle. I’m going to have to impound your car and take your driver’s license.”
I protest, “Why do you have to take the license? I don’t have any other way to get around. I live by myself. Nobody will drive me.” [I know it’s no use to argue with a police-state official with the sensitivity (and apparent IQ) of zucchini. She feels rousting me is just another act of police heroism that she’s been seeing on TV—like shooting protesters in the face with rubber bullets and pepper-spraying grandmothers. At this point, I just want to minimize the wear-and-tear to my day-to-day.] She consents to let me have the license, but only if I post an $100 ‘security’ with the department—I guess they worry about people not showing up for court. Seems like a strange bargain, but she doesn’t look like the type to pocket it.
“Okay,” I say.
After calling for a male officer to frisk me—again, I’m not making this up—, then after locking me in the plasticized tomb of her squad car’s back seat while she runs whatever background checks, she climbs behind the wheel and asks for directions. “You know, I could take you to jail for this,” she says. But I see a tiny sliver of actual female human creeping out around the Darth Vader wannabe she’s being programmed to project. My thoughts at this moment are highly positive: “Hallelujah, the background checks have clearly turned up nothing on the NSA Hit Parade under my name!”
She drives me home (about two miles away). I happen to have a couple of hundreds set aside for a rainy day, so I run in and grab one for her. “Have a nice day, you …%64#*&^@!3**!+.” Except, of course, I don’t say what I’m thinking. [In fact, I no longer harbor much anger toward these little pod people who have been bred without apparent minds or souls: “Father, forgive them, for being products of the system.”] I’ve been unfailingly polite to Brunhilda, though nonconversational, all along.
[The immortal libertarian Karl Hess once lectured that everyone is people. He mentioned being booked after a protest in DC, and he asked how the officer who was booking him felt about the police union strike in effect at the time. The officer responded favorably, treating Karl more considerately in general. But that was two generations ago: it’s arguable whether the typical, young, low-level LEO is truly human these days.]
Now comes the fun part and the part that has even more universal relevance. Because of this particular public servant’s ignorance and lack of discretion, I’m rather substantially inconvenienced and dunned over the course of the next three weeks:
- First I have to register the car and get a Michigan driver’s license—of course this means standing in line at the DMV (secretary of state’s branch office, in Michigan). [I don’t really have to get a Michigan license, but I’ve decided to stay here for at least another year or two.] Actually, it doesn’t take too much time; I also get the added information that the NSA/CIA doesn’t have any interest in me. Cost: ~$85/3 hours.
- Then, it’s down to the State Farm office for insurance. I’m using the same people as Mom. Michigan is about twice as expensive to insure automobiles than all the other states because it insists on rolling medical insurance into the contract. Someone explained it to me once, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out qui bono. Cost: ~$200 (for the next quarter-year)/0.5 hour.
- Next, I have to get the car out of impound. Thanks to my neighbor-of-the-decade, Jack, by the way, who loans me his 2012 Cadillac CTS to tool around in for a week leading up to my auto retrieval. [I tell you, compared to the Villager (which I adore), Caddy is the only way to fly. Swoosh.] Cost: $110/2 hours (I need to take some paperwork to another police jurisdiction who has cognizance of the impound).
So now I’m good to go, except for the hearing.
The process of a would-be automobile-traffic miscreant going through the court system is worth a column or even a book of its own. Again the image of those Australian sheep ranches during the shearing season, say, as in the movie The Thorn Birds, comes to mind. The 35th District Court is a general statist tribunal, i.e. it handles real criminals such as marijuana smokers and armed robbers (excepting of course government officials).
I’ll spare the reader the petty BS of going thru metal detectors, having to take my cellphone back out to the car, asking one of the metal detector officers why it takes four heavily armed fat men to stand around doing nothing—”How do I get a job like this? Do you get dental?”—, and figuring out where my physical courtroom lies in the building. Interestingly, as I’m in line to find out where I’m supposed to go, some business lady in Plymouth (city near Northville in the same county as the city of Detroit) is trying to get satisfaction from the clerk:
“What do you mean I’m in the wrong court?! You sent me to the umpty-ump district court in Detroit to get the restitution payment, but they tell me I have to come back here. This is where my store is, this is where the punk stole my stuff, this is where he was convicted and sentenced. I want my $1500. No, no, no, no, don’t you dare send me back downtown. Let me talk to your supervisor. What do you mean the supervisor doesn’t come in today?!!”
The moral of the story is: if you’re an victim of real crime in modern society, tough schtick.
The system is not at all interested in protecting your property or person, or prosecuting those who violate your rights. Much less doing anything to thwart or apprehend the ones who, you know, like, initiate force. “Did somebody inflict bodily harm upon you? We’re sympathetic of course, but our officers prefer not to go after men who exhibit traits of violent aggression; it’s, like, you know, dangerous. People can get hurt. On the other hand, traffic division is lately cracking down on right turns on red. And we’re having a strip-search special this month for hot babes who resist arrest by arguing with traffic cops.”
I do find my courtroom, honorable James A. Plakas (real name, because I’m going to be saying something nice about him) presiding. But it’s never made clear to me that this is where I’m supposed to be for my particular offense. I’d say 50 people are milling about and sitting on benches on the third floor, the vast majority asking no questions, many of them not even realizing where their courtroom is located. They’re cowed, mostly underclass, lots of immigrant types, non-natives, plenty of juveniles. Another movie reel plays in my mind; I see a person in a uniform calling the throng to attention:
“Okay, I want everyone to come with me, now. We’re going to take the elevator down to the ground floor, then walk out to the back. If you need assistance, the nurse with the red arm band will get you a walker. Proceed to the grove of trees 100 yards to the south. Behind the trees you will find several rows of ditches, many have been filled in. Then using the specially constructed ramps, descend into the closest open eight-foot-deep, four-foot-wide ditch in a single file, Stay close to the person in front of you. Don’t worry, I’ll be right here watching, making sure you don’t make any mistakes. Finally, please, no movement or sound while the back-hoe with the American flag empties fine Wayne County dirt over you to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. Thank… blerrrfff.”
Sure, an extreme image… but when would YOU stand up and say anything, ask questions, defy authority, take up arms, etc. How may frequent fliers do we have out there who keep putting up with routine TSA indignities and atrocities—to their women and children, to people with disabilities? One of these days the average American’s manhood will wander so far off the reservation, it will disappear.
Wrapping up. One older, smartly uniformed bailiff in Plakas’ courtroom—he was the only court employee I saw who didn’t try to hide among the cubicles behind the bulletproof glass—conscientiously attempts to help anyone who asks for directions. He’s the one who announces my conference opportunity with the Northville prosecutor regarding “Let’s Make a Deal.” Prosecutor Guy is a small young man, nattily attired, and, per his card, the law firm he works for is doing contract work for the city… let’s call him Mr. Needle Appendage. I fill him in on the background and extenuating circumstances.
Needle pontificates something to the effect of “strict compliance” standard, which boils down to the fact that he’s not about to exercise any more prosecutorial discretion than Brunhilda exercised police discretion. The ‘deal’ is that if I plead guilty the infraction won’t be on my record as a misdemeanor and that I won’t be assessed any points to affect my insurance.
I will be charged a set of fines and penalties totaling $425!
I demur, reiterating that it isn’t really clear to me on a reasonable man standard that I violated any statute. Also, my mother died and I have the death certificate. Mr. Appendage, showing all the sensitivity of a Guantanamo waterboarder, assures me he’s going way out on a limb, doing the absolute best he can—he even calls in an attractive woman public defender to confirm what a great deal I’m getting. “Yup, sure thing, sonny boy,” she says. “Hey, Needle, I’m going over to Starbuck’s, can I pick you up a latte?”
Most likely, despite his arrogant attitude, if this case goes to a trial, nobody’s going to convict me; it will likely be dismissed. But I’m on the Public Enemy’s turf, you never know what kind of high-handed, ego-dipwad judge you’re going to draw. Plus there’s the additional time out of my life. Too many unknowns. It’s a racket, a shakedown, everyone knows it. But just as 90% of the poor saps in my situation, I cave: assume the position, sign the agreement, and fondle my MasterCard.
Back in the courtroom, the judge reads the charge—that I violated some statute that sounds fairly complicated—and asks if I understand it and plead guilty. I’m reluctant to accept what I don’t understand, so I say something like, “I’m not sure, what does all that gobble-gobble really mean? It sounds like I did something really bad.” Plakas doesn’t want to have long conversations into the wee hours, he says, “Look, it’s guilty or not guilty.”
I give in. “Okay, okay, I guess it’s crucifiction.” [In reality, you need to have a lot of faith that what you’re agreeing to is what you’ve been told in layman’s language and that you didn’t just plead guilty to a capital crime. What sort of degenerate high school dropouts write these statutes anyway? ]
Done and dusted.
I’m pissed. This is wrong. After the judge accepts my plea, I stand at the podium for a moment longer and ask him if I can make a statement for the record. He says sure. It goes something like:
“Your honor, it’s outrageous that I’m being so severely penalized for an act that was perfectly innocent and harmed no one. My mother died a few months ago; during her last two weeks in the hospital I used power of attorney to transfer the title of her car to me. Insurance and registration were paid up, and I was going to put the car in my name before her registration expired. I was in distress. I loved my mom. Losing her tore my insides apart. What public purpose does it serve on top of that to take away my car, a day of my time, and several hundred dollars for a paperwork problem? How is this anything close to justice?”
My voice reaches a crescendo of indignation. It’s into the afternoon now, and only a few hapless people remain sitting in the pews. I have their rapt attention. The honorable judge is moved as well. He asks to see the death certificate. He asks if I explained these mitigating conditions to the officer and to the prosecutor, which of course I did. Then he announces to the court that many years ago he was a prosecutor, and was expected to exercise discretion… so that the judge didn’t have to be bothered with cases such as mine that don’t pass the smell test.
In a quiet manner he informs me that he’s going to void every fine accept a state mandated $125. (I’ve already paid the $100, so my net today is only $25.) I also suspect that later in the week he will quietly read the riot act to both the sadistic boy prosecutor and the unthinking girl cop. I say, “Thank you, your honor.” Putting every ounce of respect I can muster into the your honor. Then shuffle off to pay the clerk.
What’s the moral of the story? I already mentioned that the penalties and processes in the world of traffic are overly burdensome and out of proportion to real infractions. But the general problem is that the system does not work for the people, rather it’s designed to crush them. To laden them down with pointless rules and offenses—abuses and usurpations—on those least able to pay the price of violating them.
Now my mind plays an old Saturday Night Live skit with Steve Martin and John Belushi (I think). The setting is a medieval courtroom, and the defendant is summarily delivered to the gallows, which sets up one of the regulars—I think it’s Martin—saying,
“Wait a minute. Why don’t we give, let’s think a minute, rights to the defendant. And let him plead his case before a jury of his peers. Make the jury 8, no 10, no 12 men. And the defendant shall be, hmmm, innocent unless proven guilty. Beyond a reasonable doubt. Oh yes, I know, I know, we’ll also have no cruel and unusual punishments.” Long pause.
Martin and Belushi look at each other, and together in a loud voice say: “Nah!”
Kind of an analogy to our current system of government(s), which has become self-perpetuating for the benefit of those in office. The public servants have become public masters and fewer and fewer of the well-meaning, informed, and virtuous persons outside of government take the time or effort to resist the encroachments of the political class on the general sphere of life and liberty. Hence, cops, prosecutors, judges, regulators mindlessly and routinely take more and more of that life and liberty away from us… aided by big inside money and control of media at the nation-state level, which few care to defy… and many seek the easy way to cash in on.
The limits of tyrants are proscribed by the endurance of those they oppress.
— Frederick Douglas
Yes, the endurance, but also the ignorance, lassitude, and fear.
High time for a change. A sea change. For the people.
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