When it comes to the Department of Motor Vehicles, I am scofflaw. For whatever reason, I avoid taking care of really basic car ownership tasks, like registering my car. I am fully cognizant that this serves no purpose except to a) subject me to late fees and b) possible tickets. I have no idea, why, even this late in life, I keep acting out some kind of adolescent rebellion with this large faceless entity, but I do.
I have been driving without proper tags on my car for, oh, 18 months. My registration was actually paid for, but I never got the car smogged, hence no tags. And while a year and a half may seem like a long time, my record for driving without proper tags is three years. Eventually, yes, I get a ticket and I need to take care of it. It’s as if I wait for a nice officer to remind me, until I finally take care of my registration. Since I inevitably get it taken care of, I only have to pay $10 fix it ticket, so I guess I don’t consider the consequences to be too dire.
This time, however, I procrastinated with the repairs needed for my car to pass smog, and I missed my court date. Yikes! So, yesterday, rather than just going up to the counter at the courthouse and showing them my proof of correction, I had to appear before the judge.
Unlike previous trips to the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, there was no line going out the door in the morning. Though, much to my chagrin, they had closed half of the service windows, so the line inside went twice as slow as usual. Plenty of time for people watching. I don’t know the exact demographic breakdown of the area that is served by the Oakland court house, but I’m pretty sure there that white folks make up more than 5% of the population. However, the crowd standing in line to take care of everything including minor DMV violations, traffic violations, and other infractions is overwhelmingly people of color. I am not a sociologist, but it is interesting batting around theories:
- White folks just pay their fines by mail, and are either not eligible for or not interested in Traffic School
- People of color get more tickets because:
- racial profiling
- they commit more infractions
It may be a combination of all of the above. I don’t know. But, the racial distribution did seem out of whack in what should be a fairly representative sample of the general local population. I mean, everyone gets a ticket now and again. Right? Once you take race/ethnicity out of the equation, socio-economically, it seemed the crowd was fairly diverse with a mix of professionals, working class, students and others who seemed to know the courthouse just a little too well.
I was in the first group called up to see the judge. Included in my group were a couple of folks driving without insurance (don’t do that – even if you fix it, the judge shows no mercy in terms of fines), and another person or two pleading not guilty to traffic infractions. One rather lost fellow was there for having an open alcohol container in a public park. Apparently, this was not his first time and he seemed to have lost track of exactly how many tickets he had. The judged slapped him with a $350 fine, which no doubt, this man cannot pay, nor did he seem to inclined to remember to do his community service. After him, a very happy guy with slightly bloodshot eyes came up to the judge. “You’re charged with possession of less than an once of marijuana. How do you plea?” intoned the judge. “Hey, man, what can I say? I’m guilty.” he said with a smile. “That’ll be a $100 fine.” the judge replied. Mr. Open Container was sitting next to me waiting for his papers, “shiiiiiit, he gets $100 for weed, and I get $350 for beer. That ain’t right . . . that ain’t right.” I was going to suggest he perhaps change his choice of recreational substance, but my papers had been processed and I happily walked out to go pay my $10 fine.
So, for now, I’m legal. No longer do I have to drive like a woman on the run from the law with one eye in my rear view mirror at all times. Feels good.