Selective law enforcement seems to be the norm in Carson City |

Selective law enforcement seems to be the norm in Carson City

by Abby johnson

“Is the city biased in enforcing parking regulations?” asked the headline of a letter to the editor in this newspaper on Aug. 26. The author, Michelle Lewis, reported on her experience as a new resident of Carson City, after being cited for having her legally registered car parked in front of her house.

According to Ms. Lewis, the Carson City Sheriff’s Office told her that no vehicle can be parked on the street in the city for more than 72 hours. She observed other vehicles parked on her street for more than 72 hours without being tagged, and concluded that perhaps she was singled out by the Sheriff’s Office because she is part of a biracial family.

I’m not part of a biracial family, but I’ve had a year of similar stressful experiences, ever since we bought our travel trailer. We brought the licensed and registered trailer out of storage to pack it for a trip and charge the batteries.

Less than 24 hours after it was parked on the street in front of our house, we discovered that a Sheriff’s Office volunteer officer had slapped a bright orange “dead storage” tag on it, alleging that it had been parked on the street for more than seven days and would be towed if not moved. A second tag was added because the electric cord to charge the batteries crossed the “public way,” the dirt next to the curb where a sidewalk would be if there were sidewalks throughout the neighborhoods near downtown.

Like Ms. Lewis, we wondered why we were singled out. Given the zoning of our neighborhood, residential vehicles, work trucks and trailers are part of the mix. We also were curious if someone had complained.

When we asked the volunteer officer, he said he’d received a complaint but was not allowed to tell us who had complained. Over the next year, he kept a close watch on our vehicle comings and goings, parkings and plug-ins, and occasionally slapped another orange tag on the camper. He alleged that he was responding to complaints, but over time, we came to believe that we were the object of an overzealous personal crusade and power trip.

He also had our next-door neighbors in his sights. They, with no driveway but more trucks than drivers, were an easy mark for Officer Friendly. Yet across the street from our homes, a parked speed boat with expired Nevada registration sat on a trailer with expired California plates and gathered tumbleweeds for months without being tagged.

Selective enforcement is insidious, as evidenced by Ms. Lewis’ letter. She concludes the treatment she received as a new resident of Carson City may be because her family is biracial. We were loath to complain about the biased practices of the Sheriff’s Office, not wanting to provoke additional harassment. This is where the erosion of civil liberties begins.

Where it ends is being debated this week in the U.S. Senate. Sens. Leahy and Spector have an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill to restore habeas corpus, the fundamental constitutional right that allows citizens to challenge the lawfulness of their imprisonment. That is because in September of last year, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which suspended the right of habeas corpus for the first time since the Civil War.

President Bush currently has the power to declare anyone, including U.S. citizens, “enemy combatants” and throw them in jail indefinitely without any explanation for their imprisonment. Yet habeas corpus is the bedrock of American justice. Without habeas rights, prisoners are denied a fair hearing in court to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, including the way they are treated in their confinement.

In Washington, D.C., this is the week to restore the right of habeas corpus. In Carson City, the time is right to ensure that the Sheriff’s Office is not abusing its power by harassing, intimidating, or discriminating against Carson City residents.

Fresh Ideas: Starting conversations by sharing personal perspectives on timely and timeless issues. Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City and a part-time resident of Baker. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.