Monday, May 7, 2012

Parking for the Pious

"What, did you want us to make him WALK in?"

I have lived near Our Lady of Blackrock Church for a few years now, and throughout that time I’ve been noticing a trend that has aggravated me more and more with each passing week.  There is alternate-side parking on the street on which I live.  It changes over on Thursday at 6:00, and the law is evidently suspended altogether on Sunday morning, during evenings when bingo is being played, and any other time that large numbers of motorists might be attending church.

Now, I’m not an enormously popular guy – and I’ll probably be less so amongst churchgoing folks if they read this post – so I don’t exactly have a caravan of friends and family making camp in front of my apartment day after day.  Nonetheless, my best friend and my brother have each gotten tickets for parking on the wrong side of my street or failing to switch sides at the required time.  The parking enforcement officers weren’t exactly slow to react, either.  Each time someone I know has been ticketed, it’s been as if an officer was lying in wait for someone to mess up.

Yet if I walk down the street on a Sunday morning I find that dozens of motorists flaunt the law on a regular basis, and not one of them has ever had a ticket on his car’s windshield.  It’s simply not possible that the city has routinely failed to notice the multitudes of infractions.  They are deliberately avoiding enforcement of the law at times when it is commonplace for a certain segment of the public to break it.  I don’t know who is responsible for that decision or why they’ve made it, but I know that it is contrary to the spirit and the very purpose of the law.

If laws are selectively enforced they are not laws at all; they are the whims of the people charged with the duty to maintain an orderly society.  If the city feels that alternate-side parking is an excessive burden to my neighborhood in light of how much parking it needs during certain hours, then they should tear down the signs and repeal the rule, or at least modify both to include hours of exemption.  Why should the burden of responsibility be placed upon visitors to my neighborhood, but not upon visitors to its church?

I can imagine what the justifications might be for the current policy of selective ticketing.  Some might think I’m being mean-spirited and asking that congregants be punished for attending church.  But this has nothing to do with religion.  I’m against all double-standards, especially when it’s a matter of the police or other representatives of government permitting the law to be broken with impunity.

Let’s be clear:  They have no idea whether the cars they aren’t ticketing belong to people who are actually attending church.  This unofficial immunity isn’t offered to a specific sort of lawbreaker, but to people who break the law at specific times.  Considering that some of those times are when bingo is scheduled, it can’t even be argued that this non-enforcement is broadly aimed at protecting the pious.  And even if every would-be ticket recipient was fervently praying in the pews and arranging community service projects in the sanctuary at the time they broke the law, the fact remains that they broke the law.

If it’s a sense of piety that motivates law enforcement to grant such amnesty, I wonder if it would provide the same allowances if the building was not a Catholic church but a mosque, or a synagogue, or a Hindu temple.  For that matter, if the law can be suspended around sacred spaces, are the police free to decide for themselves what a sacred space is, or what kind of behavior puts a person above the law?  Can they patrol the area around Ralph Wilson Stadium and give out tickets only to the cars with out of state plates?

If police discretion is acceptable in one circumstance, it’s acceptable in general.  But any bias in enforcement makes the law unintelligible and unfair.  If the law doesn’t justify an equivalent sacrifice from everyone, it isn’t a good law.  If a cop doesn’t hold every citizen to the same standard, he’s not a good cop.

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