03
Jul
13

Laws, Bureaucracy, and Enforcement

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege and why some people are above the law. I got into this frame of mind because of a podcast I recently heard in which an industry group and an activist group sparred witheach other via their respective spokespeople, and the dialogue was nauseatingly familiar. Basically there are supposed to be laws to prevent company x from doing something, but they are not enforced, and so the company gets to do what it wants, even though the right laws are ostensibly on the books.

This is an outrage, and not because I think that companies should have a lot of regulations on them. In many cases, the regulations are not enforced because they were ridiculous to start with and are in place to be used only when a DA or someone else with some political juice wants to go after someone.

There are two scenarios for non-enforcement, both of them bad.

1. Some stupid laws are passed. Everyone sees that they are stupid and so ignores them. It is understood that the laws should be ignored, UNTIL someone who is a minority or without political power offends against this law. Then, all of a sudden, the law can be revived or brought to bear. This kind of selective enforcement is a kind of oppression, and it can be used against ordinary citizens or companies.

Here’s an example. I walked past my block and there was a sign that said “NO PARKING, TEMPORARY, SUNDAY.” So I plan to not park on that part of the street on sunday. Then sunday rolls around and everyone is parked there. Everyone apparently disregarded that sign and DID NOT get tickets. I checked. Not only did this fake out result in me going out of my way to park somewhere else, but I guarantee that if someone who lived on that block wanted to get someone in trouble, or if someone saw an undesirable from outside the neighborhood parking there, there would be phone calls.

This also happens with red light camera in Los Angeles. People get automated tickets from cameras, but the unspoken rule is that no one has to pay those tickets. This makes sense since they are outrageously high. Nonetheless, I guarantee that IN THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES, i.e., if the police want to search someone or get them for something, those tickets get revived. “Look, you didn’t pay this ticket,” even though that rule is ignored by everyone.

In this scenario it is government who oppresses by acting as if certain laws don’t matter and then bringing them to bear capriciously either of its own accord or at the behest of some politically powerful group.

2. The other scenario is when a good law is passed that makes sense. Here, as in my post on CAFOs (previous post) the person or people that the law is supposed to regulate use political protest or legal trickery to dodge the law. This is when private actors can use non-enforcement as a kind of oppression because in these circumstances,  a kind of insulting inequality is put in place. The people with power get exempted. In a way, it’s kind of like feudalism. The people get together and vote, but these democratic procedures mean nothing because some groups (the powerful groups ignoring the law) act like lords in medieval europe or on game of thrones. They can do what they want regardless of what the people say because it is their interest which is served and no one else.

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