If you were looking for a silver lining to our explosive story this week revealing that San Diego Police are enforcing a blatantly unconstitutional city code by ticketing people who say things that offend them, you might point out that these citations are infractions and therefore at least won’t land someone in jail.
But there’s a host of bad news that comes along with that: Namely, people fighting infractions aren’t entitled to a lawyer in court. If they were, I suspect this city code would have been laughed out of court and off the books a long time ago.
Over the last few years, evidence has mounted that the city improperly wields all types of low-level offenses – often against the most vulnerable residents who are least able to challenge their validity.
A few years ago, I discovered an SDPD officer had lied under oath about the circumstances in which he ticketed a homeless man. He also declined to provide body camera footage that would have exonerated him – that footage was only discovered once the case went to appeal. That man, unlike most of the people saddled with these tickets, actually had a lawyer who appealed the case and ultimately unearthed the footage.
That same lawyer, in fact, also found that MTS officers deleted body camera footage of their interaction with another homeless man they ticketed for supposedly failing to obey their instructions – before he could use it in court in his defense.
For homeless and other vulnerable San Diegans targeted by the arbitrary enforcement of these quality-of-life violations, the consequences can be enormous. Some people cited for failing to pay for a trolley fare have had their lives upended in a way that’s wildly disproportionate to their offense.
Many of the people who received one of seditious language tickets didn’t show up to court to challenge them, and had additional fees tacked on as a result. They either didn’t know the extent to which their rights were being violated or weren’t in a position to defend themselves.
The police didn’t comment for our story to defend these tickets. I haven’t heard a peep from the mayor, who oversees the police. Their silence offends me deeply. Can I send them a ticket for that?
What VOSD Learned This Week
Randy Dotinga highlighted how the seditious language law got its start.
If I said, “The city is re-negotiating its franchise fee agreement!” I wouldn’t fault you for tuning out. But it’s actually a big opportunity for the city to get what it wants out of its power provider.
It’s unclear, though, whether the city can successfully walk the line between demanding a big payment from the winning bidder, and ensuring that bill doesn’t get passed on to consumers.
School campuses will be closed when the school year resumes. Except, actually, they’ll be open – to families that can afford to pay to send their kids there. We talked about “schoolnastics” and other private school-like programs on the podcast this week.
What I’m Reading
- “Almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable”: This is an absolutely devastating autopsy of the United States’ failed coronavirus response. (The Atlantic)
- It will shock you to learn that Liberty University’s quest to dominate sports has been hampered by its inability to treat Black athletes with respect. (Slate)
- Ever since my son started daycare, I’ve been angry about how poorly we treat (and pay!) the people who do the monumentally important job of caring for young children. The debate over schools has only heightened the degree to which we treat early childhood educators as less important than teachers. (New York Times)
- College campuses aren’t what’s fueling “cancel culture.” It’s the internet. (The Ringer)
- This is a wild, entertaining and deeply revealing piece about what two decades’ worth of reality dating shows can teach us about America. (Washington Post)
Line of the Week
“Personal drive, strongly held convictions and sharp political instincts are critical qualities for anyone who wants to pursue an active or transformative role in American politics. They happen also to be traits that render women instantly suspect in the American popular imagination: inscrutable and untrustworthy on an almost biblical level.” – I was physically vibrating while reading this piece about the sexism that’s characterized the VP hunt, both because of how angry it made me and because of that very specific sensation when someone articulates the thoughts in your head better than you ever could.