Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The DC Two-Step

Now, I’m not one to get easily concerned and I generally think people can handle themselves and should be left to their own devices. However, there is an epidemic of truly rash behavior sweeping through Washington that last week nearly took the life of at least three of my friends. For an action that is seen by many as commonplace and of little concern, I think this an issue we should be paying a lot more attention to. But probably not for the reasons you’d think.

Jaywalking is one of those societal ills that just won’t go away. Like a stubborn case of the sniffles, it’s mildly annoying at worst but still awful because no matter how much Nyquil you chug you just can’t get rid of it. Legislators have tried lots of tricks to get rid of jaywalking: from fines, to pretty little crosswalk designs that they hope will entice you to stay in the lines. Here in DC we have an especially good collection of gimmicky walk signals created to catch your attention and keep you on the sidewalk. For instance, the Mass Ave walk signal that sounds like a fighter pilot relaying commands: Walk sign is on to cross, walk sign is on to cross. Roger, roger, Mass Ave walk signal, you’re coming in loud and clear. Or at least you would be if I wasn’t halfway across campus by the time you’re ridiculously loud speakers reached me. You see, like many of the things we would like to discourage, jaywalking is one of those things that will still continue to happen as long as you have streets. What bothers me most about jay-walking is not that everyone does it or even that it’s technically pretty dangerous. What bothers me most is that the people I see most doing it are those most involved in making laws against it. This is one thing I learned from working near Capitol Hill. I think it must be a matter of pride for legislators and their aides to see who can most boldly and nonchalantly place themselves in front of honking, speeding cars. I have actually been audibly scoffed at for waiting for a crosswalk signal. But there is more to the issue than the obvious problem of trying to legislate something so ubiquitous out of existence.

So what’s my problem? Of course I think they should be allowed to risk their lives like this since they obviously find it to be a very worthwhile sport. My problem is that the politically powerful tend to be insulated from the laws they pass to deal with problems like this. You will never see a legislator get a jaywalking ticket. I have, however, seen friends of mine get jay-walking tickets simply because the police in quiet suburbs tend to be very bored. A number of the laws our legislators make do not influence them directly. This is sometimes because they are literally seen differently in the eyes of our laws. For example, many workplace laws do not apply to congressmen’s offices and staff, allowing them to reap the benefits of cheaper labor that they deny to businesses on grounds of ethicality. Another big shocker for most people is the fact that congressmen don’t always have to abide by insider-trading laws that exist for the average citizen. And most think corruption on this scale is something that only happens in faraway countries with hard to pronounce names. ($5 if you can guess which country this flag represents without looking it up.Click for the answer.)

Other times it is because they are treated differently by law enforcement officials. Ex-Federal Marshall Matthew Fogg spoke at AU a while ago about the harmful effect the drug war has had on America. One of the major things that he stressed was the practice within law enforcement, especially in drug policy, of intentionally going after lower-level dealers and poor users who could not retaliate or sue. He recalled asking his superiors why they don’t go after the wealthy kingpins and politically powerful known drug users. But this makes things messy for law enforcement, and so the politically powerful get away with more. Legislators tend to live outside the realm of reality in a lot of ways and I think it goes without saying that when lawmakers are this far removed from the impacts of the laws they pass, we should really consider whether they are good judges of what policy works and how it affects the average citizen. So, while I support the congressman’s right to jaywalk (and take drugs, and play extremely dangerous sports, and eat twelve Big Macs a day if he so pleases) I just wish he would stop making it impossible for me to share in the sport he so adores.

-Reposted from my personal blog at http://kierkegaurd.wordpress.com/

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