Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cole Case Also Shows Dual Justice System

You've heard by now that Cincinnati councilmember Laketa Cole was recently involved in a traffic stop while riding her motorcycle and that during the stop, she contacted the City Manager and an assistant chief of police regarding the conduct of the police officers' who were issuing her and her companion tickets.  The media has insinuated that Cole abused her position in making these calls.

I'll accept as true the statements by Cole and Milton Dohoney that Cole sought no favors during her phone calls.  She got a ticket and her companion's motorcycle was impounded (and he was cited for a first-degree misdemeanor traffic offense).  I'll accept that Cole did not attempt in any way to improve her position or avoid a ticket.  But the case still illustrates that there's two justice systems:  one for a very small percentage with some sort of admission ticket to it, and one for the rest of us.

Being stopped by the police, even for a traffic offense, makes many people quite nervous.  A lot of people, armed with cell phones, will call someone during the stop.  Usually, though, it's family or friends.  Some will even call an attorney.  Cole, though, is lucky.  She's part of Cincinnati's power structure, and had other members of the power structure on speed dial.

Sure, the average citizen could dial 411 during a stop, get the number to City Hall, and try to get the City Manager, an assistant chief, or even the mayor on the line to talk about what was happening.  But would their call be taken at the particular moment?  Probably not.  Once again, we see that people with money or power (and my sense is that Cole primarily has the latter) are able to access resources unavailable to the rest of us.  Cole wanted to make sure officers called the right kind of tow truck to haul away her friend's motorcycle (other than with a flatbed, how can you tow a crotch rocket?).  She made a call to make sure that happened.  It was a natural reaction.  But the rest of us would have simply been at the mercy of police to do their jobs properly (which, quite frankly, they generally do).

Was Cole wrong to make the calls she made that day?  I don't know.  Probably not.  But it's telling that she was able to get attention to which 98 percent of motorists in a similar predicament wouldn't have been entitled.  This isn't about a particular city official or politician, but is instead about our system of government and justice.  Such access should be available to everyone or no one.  I'm not sure how to fix the disparity--or even that it's fixable--but I'm quite sure it's not one we should be proud of.

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