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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sheep and Goats on the Road

posted by on February 12 at 15:21 PM

You gotta love it when politicians use biblical metaphors to justify draconian laws. Here’s state Sen. Mike Carrel on DUIs.

He’s sponsoring a bill that would require people convicted of drunken driving to put fluorescent-yellow license plates on their cars for one year — once their driving privileges have been restored.

“I’ve talked to the law-enforcement agencies and they think it would be an awfully good idea to have a way of visibly telling sheep from goats out on the road,” said Carrell, R-Lakewood.

Drunk driving is wrong and deserves punishment, no question. But, under Carrel’s pious proposal, it would be the poor and racial minorities disproportionately branded with the penalty plate—those are the folks who are profiled for vehicle stops or can’t afford top-notch lawyers to beat the DUI rap. To Carrel, however, those who get caught are the sinning goats mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew that must “…depart from me into the eternal fire…” Jeez, Mike, haven’t people who paid their debt to society and had their drivers licenses restored already atoned for their sins?

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One of your premises needs to be supported. Can you show us some degree of proof that traffic stops are the result of profiling? The State patrol recently released a study saying that is not true.

Posted by jamesb | February 12, 2008 3:29 PM

Um, they can also go to jail for DUI. But that's okay, to have this alleged discrimination in folks going to jail?

Or it's only an issue when they have to have day glo license plates?

And what do you mean "beat the rap" -- are you saying that all minorities arrested for DUI are innocent?

What exactly are you saying?

Men get arrested more, too, but you don't claim that's discrimination against men. Because....why?

Putting on day glo license plates -- a/k/a actually have laws that are enforced in some meaningful way -- might actually work.

Gee let's not do what that nazi state Sweden does and actually pull your license no questions asked.

That would be horrible, depriving us of the freedom to drive around drunk like that.

Posted by unPC | February 12, 2008 3:32 PM

that link doesn't really show anything about singling out or profiling minorities. I think it's possible that Native Americans actually do more drunk driving than Asians.

Posted by Abe | February 12, 2008 3:36 PM

Unintended benefit: No one - drunk or sober - will ask to borrow your car.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | February 12, 2008 3:42 PM

@ 1 & 3) Of course the State Patrol says they're not racially profiling, but they have an interest in reaching that conclusion. But studies, including this one, say it's commonplace. That applies to traffic stops in Washington, no doubt, and contributes to the disparity in DUI arrests.

@ 2) The point is these folks may have already gone to jail and paid their fines, which they should do. DUI offenders should be punished, like I said, if you read the post. But they shouldn't be the only criminal offenders is society branded with their criminal history. It's not like people convicted of assault have to wear special jerseys when they walk into a crowd.

Posted by Dominic Holden | February 12, 2008 3:50 PM

I think it is odd a state law maker talks Bible-trash talk. Sheep and goats, hell we're not allowed to have them in the city limits, and what the fuck are people doing with them in their cars? It's enough to drive one to drink (preferably in a Cadillac).

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | February 12, 2008 4:03 PM

I think you're on to something, Dom. Maybe people convicted of drug offenses can be given a special shirt to wear so the rest of us know who to call when we need a new hookup.

Posted by Kerry | February 12, 2008 4:05 PM
Drunk driving is wrong and deserves punishment, no question. But, under Carrel’s pious proposal, it would be the poor and racial minorities disproportionately branded with the penalty plate—those are the folks who are profiled for vehicle stops or can’t afford top-notch lawyers to beat the DUI rap.

This is the stupidest fucking thing I've seen on Slog in weeks.

First of all, your logic here -- that punishment for a crime should not be increased because there is racism in the system -- could just as easily be used to provide that that no crime should be punished because there is racism in the system. So basically, we should just abandon the criminal justice system entirely until we get that more or less intractable racism problem taken care of.

Second of all, the link you provided to prove that there's racism in the system for DUI arrests may as well be a fucking duckroll. The statistics cited in the data sheet you link to shows that all minorities except Asians have a higher DUI arrest rate than whites, with Native Americans and Hispanics topping the ranking. Well hm. Native Americans -- and many Hispanics are basically American Indians -- are genetically predisposed to alcoholism. Asians, on the other hand, are genetically predisposed to be allergic to alcohol. I think I see a fucking pattern here. Something else that affects substance abuse? Poverty. And Black people tend to be poorer than white people -- which is fucked up, but is also a fact that could explain the higher incidence of DUI arrests without getting into racial profiling.

So basically you have a logically dubious premise supported by a complete mis-framing of an inconclusive piece of data. All in support of what position? Softer penalties for people who get endanger their own lives and the lives of others by being too fucking lazy and complacent to A) stop drinking in time to drive home safely and B) call a fucking cab if they've consumed too much to drive home safely.

This post is shit.

Posted by Judah | February 12, 2008 4:08 PM

Hey, Judah. The link is there to show that non-white folks are disproportionately arrested for DUIs. It's not clear from those data why the disparity exists. I never based my point on that piece of data, as you claim. But racial profiling is well documented, so I think it's clear that non-white folks being pulled over more and indigent defendants who can't afford expensive lawyers are bearing the brunt of DUI laws. Personally, I don't think need to step up the penalties for DUIs; I believe we should fund more "don't drink and drive" education.

Posted by Dominic Holden | February 12, 2008 4:23 PM

Um, to add, 'goats and sheeps' is a pretty common metaphor slash biblical allusion (like 'tasting the fruit') and doesn't neccessarily imply a fundamentalist worldview.

Posted by johnnie | February 12, 2008 4:31 PM

yeah, the penalty seems to be stiff enough. I mean how many offenders actually get a second (or seventh) D.U... er, nevermind.

I would love to know which drivers are more likely to be be drunk. You gotta believe that yellow plate hurts the driver more when it's affixed to a Mercedes instead of an '82 Datsun (shit, I have dipshit friends that would probably consider it a badge of honor) and the threat of getting slapped with one would work a lot better than more goofy commercials of people with wine and whiskey spilling out of their car.

Posted by Abe | February 12, 2008 4:33 PM

Several states already have such a system in place, and it doesn't seem to have caused society to crumble. It simply makes it easier for law enforcement to spot a recidivist.

If poor folks and minorities - or anyone else - doesn't want to get hit with a DUI, there's a damned easy way to avoid it. It's rather obvious, so I shall not belabor the point.

Posted by Geni | February 12, 2008 4:39 PM
The link is there to show that non-white folks are disproportionately arrested for DUIs. It's not clear from those data why the disparity exists. But racial profiling is well documented, so I think it's clear that non-white folks being pulled over more and indigent defendants who can't afford expensive lawyers are bearing the brunt of DUI laws.

So your reading of those statistics would suggest to you that there's a causal relationship between the race of the arrestee and the frequency with which they're arrested. The data showing that Native Americans get arrested most often and Asians get arrested least often. Tell me Dominic, because I'm genuinely curious: how are the police able to tell a Native American from an Asian in a moving car? Is it actually based on the race of the driver, or is it all the turquoise jewelry and denim? And since when do cops have a bigger hard-on for anyone than they have for African Americans?

The disparity in arrest rates between Native Americans and Asians or Native Americans and Hispanics would tend to suggest that, if officers are profiling, they're doing so based on cultural rather than racial markers. In which case I would imagine, if "white" wasn't just a big demographic monolith, that white people driving beat-up pick-up trucks, wearing denim jackets and sporting trucker caps, might show up as having quite a few more traffic stops than white people who drive fucking BMWs. In which case we're talking economic profiling rather than racial profiling. Which is still pretty odious, but not really as sinister as racial profiling generally.

All of which is to say that your statistics don't go anywhere near proving -- or even suggesting -- what you think they prove unless one is reading them with a big greasy serving of bias. Which you clearly are.

Personally, I don't think need to step up the penalties for DUIs; I believe we should fund more "don't drink and drive" education.

And I disagree.

But your opinion wouldn't piss me off at all if you had just stated it on its own terms without dressing your argument up in all this Christian-baiting "racial profiling" crap that is such obvious bullshit.

You're entitled to your opinion. You're even entitled to a respectful hearing of your opinion under certain circumstances. But when you start trying to sell it by posting fatuous arguments in a major local news outlet (and I can understand how you may lose track of this fact, but the Stranger is a major local news outlet), you cross the line into Fucking Asshole Land, where you keep company with the like of Sean Hannity and his ilk.

Posted by Judah | February 12, 2008 4:42 PM

cops generally have hard-ons for black folks, brown folks, and poor folks. and in a lot of cases, it ain't all that hard to see who's driving a car. and once the person's pulled over, who do you think's more likely to catch a break? sterling from the country club, drinking buddy jim from the sports bar, or jose from the barrio? and there's no doubt that having the $$ for a drunk driving lawyer makes a big difference. dom's assumptions seem pretty reasonable to me.

as for whether the punishments need to be upped, that's a tougher one. while drug offenses are way overpunished, you could certainly make the argument that drunk driving penalties are lower than they should be. but i don't like this "punishment's done, but wear the scarlet letter" business.

Posted by poopah | February 12, 2008 4:56 PM

Some of the most "liberal" countries on the planet have no tolerance for DUI. Most other first world countries have much lower limits on what constitutes a DUI.

As a person who was a fireman and medic for 10 years, most of the fatality collisions involved some alcohol. Liquor kills. You kill someone driving drunk usually results in much less of a penalty than you would receive if you "assaulted" them or committed manslaugter.

The tolerance for drunk driving in this country is too high far as I'm concerned.

I don't think the stigma of a plate is a bad thing. People's criminal records are all out there for people to see, via the web these days. I'd like ot know if the guy weaving in front of me has a prior conviction for DUI. That will factor into how I respond to them on the road. The race factor isn't the issue with these plates; it is an issue within our justice system as a whole. Don't confuse the two.

Dominic, I agree with you on a lot of issues. But not this one.

Posted by Dave Coffman | February 12, 2008 5:01 PM

It's gonna be a cash bonanza for auto-body shops specializing in vandalism repair, I suspect.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | February 12, 2008 5:03 PM

Also, if you make it too stigmatizing, you're just going to get an upswing in eligible drivers "borrowing" the cars of friends, spouses, and relatives get get around.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | February 12, 2008 5:05 PM

"to" get around. D'oh!

Posted by NapoleonXIV | February 12, 2008 5:07 PM

Without the racial disparity argument, does this idea withstand investigation?

We continue to punish and stigmatize sex offenders after they've served their time. Are people who drive drunk somehow different than sex offenders?

Posted by six shooter | February 12, 2008 5:24 PM

it's not like dominic's saying the way we treat sex offenders is awesome, either. anyone else detect a whiff of hysteria in those policies?

Posted by come on, six shooter | February 12, 2008 5:34 PM

Nah, I think the bright yellow tags are a good idea. Like a crumpled fender warns other drivers of poor driving habits. @5 people convicted of assault shouldn't be allowed to carry guns into a crowd, why not warn others about the formerly reckless driver of a two ton bullet?

Posted by LMSW | February 12, 2008 5:47 PM

In Florida, where I used to live, there is already a groups that uses fluorescent-yellow tags: Pro-Life Crazies. And they think it's cool; they pay extra at the DMV for that yellow tag.

What if this is an incentive instead of a deterrent?

Posted by j4zz3rgrl | February 12, 2008 5:49 PM

Bad enough to call this a "scarlet letter" issue, when it's really about public safety. But to play the race card as well? Puh-lease.

Repeat DUI offenders pass through the system too easily and it would be a huge help to responsible drivers to know (and avoid) drivers who could put our lives at risk.

Posted by JoeB4 | February 12, 2008 7:25 PM

Never underestimate the power of social stigma. If it were up to me I'd empty the jails and put people in 17th century stocks in Pioneer Square for the bums to harass and pee on.

Posted by Colton | February 12, 2008 9:10 PM

Okay, what if in addition to people convicted of a DUI, people convicted of an alcohol related reckless driving also have to use these plates? That would include those people with decent lawyers.

Posted by Gitai | February 12, 2008 10:03 PM

I'm with 2 and 15, yank their licenses. Even after the 1st offense. Behavior will change very quickly.

Posted by non sequitur | February 12, 2008 10:28 PM

Why not just hack them to death with machetes? Honestly, the more severe you make the penalties, the more people are going to lawyer up and fight in court to avoid them, and the more they will avoid treatment options.

There is a tipping point where all the stigma becomes counterproductive.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | February 12, 2008 10:46 PM

@9: I don't see education helping. I mean, is there really anyone out there by now who doesn't know that drinking and driving is a bad idea? People don't do it because they don't know any better, they do it because they think they can get away with it, and because alcohol turns off the very part of their brain that tells them they aren't fit to drive.

I actually think this would be a good idea for any driver convicted of more than X number of moving violations, not just DUI. It'd tell us all who we should give a wider berth on the freeway. As it is I have to guess based on who's weaving around in their lane, has the front of their car smashed in, or is driving a Metro bus.

Posted by Orv | February 13, 2008 9:34 AM

If somebody gets two DUIs in three years, pull their drivers' license for three years. If you can't bring yourself to do that, give 'em the yellow plate.

Posted by J.R. | February 13, 2008 9:36 AM

@29: People who get their licenses suspended don't stop driving. They just drive without a license or insurance.

Posted by Orv | February 13, 2008 9:39 AM

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