Public Comment

Commentary: One Nation Indy-Visible

By Raymond A. Chamberlin
Friday July 21, 2006

Forget the fireworks, the chase is on again—turn on your TV to find out the latest casualties of your monthly police high-speed chase. Although never having been personally impacted by this very American institution, I have long considered it the grossest, most damning hallmark of this nation. 

A May 27 chase that killed two persons in Oakland was well reviewed in perspective by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor in the June 2 Daily Planet, setting out good questions concerning the Oakland Police Department’s descriptions of factors involved in it, such as its questionable tie-in to marihuana, DUI and a street sideshow, rather than to a more probable complaint of merely loud music. Allen-Taylor framed these deaths in a pattern that included an earlier such death-dealing in Oakland in February 2002. 

Then, in response, we get Daniel Jiménez’ disgusting stereotypically American letter to the Planet. Forget whether loud music, sideshows, marihuana or DUI had anything to do with these but-for-the-police deaths; the difference in life or death resulted from the presumed functioning of fully-intact, but joy-of-the-chase-absorbed police brains versus those of crazed or drug-diminished fugitives’ brains. Only the exceptionally liberal would discount the culpability of the fugitive and take the extreme of pitying the him for not having been raised right or not having been put into a drug program—but certainly even most middle-of-the-road, intelligent persons would comprehend that it was the police officers who had the call of life or death of innocents in their hands and brains in these chases, where no greater concern called for immediate capture of this local renegade. Jiménez’ social “predication,” that the higher value is universal coerced citizen compliance with police orders, is simply an outlook of a police state unconcerned as to the life or death of its bystanding innocent citizens. When dead, one doesn’t have much “redress in the courts,” a phrase Jiménez used, and I hardly think anyone would’ve sanctioned Mr. Jiménez’ speeding off from the fix-it ticket he mentioned having gotten, given an irregularity in the charging cop’s procedure. His argument is flagrantly silly. I really wonder, if this guy had a close, adored relative killed in one of these chases, whether he would so simply put the blame only on “the one who runs.” 

So now what do we have? A baby killed by a high-speed chase by Alameda County sheriffs’ deputies in Hayward. The Sacramento Bee reported three years ago that the California average is 250 innocent bystanders injured, 16 killed, every year. So the deputies justify the chase as “never having reached high speeds”, having “stayed mostly between 50 and 60 mph” on city streets—but admits that “four red lights” and “four stop signs” were run. . .certainly not just by the fugitive. The death occurred at one of these intersections. The sheriff’s people are now cleared, the fugitive having been charged with, not just vehicular manslaughter, but murder. Another all-American solution to its problems. 

The basic statute legalizing this primitive rite permitted to peace officers in California is Vehicle Code Section 17004.7, which extends to them complete immunity from prosecution or financial burden, for even very crazy or sloppy behavior, under the most absurd skeletal criteria imposed on their respective jurisdictions that one can imagine. Newspapers are afraid to even reference it. Read it online at Many times, legislators have tried timidly to change the vapid wording of this code section to no avail, and none of them will risk the political damage of a full, functional rewording of it. The peace officer’s union, an impenetrable mafia in this state, outdoes the NRA in its hold on this open-season-on-innocents-supporting law. Unions’ traditional roles are the support of the incomes and working conditions of their members. This one supports a self-destructive behavior of its members—in the interest simply of the pursuit of the excitement of the chase. To invoke this law in a given case, the usual claim is that the fugitive tried to strike the police or their vehicle with his car. In the Oakland case of Mable (sic) Daniel, who was splattered against a gas pump in 2000, I found out from an attorney in a following civil case, that two witnesses thoroughly denied such vehicular challenge initiated that case, as claimed by the pursuers, but the witnesses were in this country illegally and would not dare to testify. 

Let’s hit this from another tack: Two days before the above-mentioned “murder,” in the dark of night, my old Acura was stolen from my driveway in the Berkeley hills. The grapevine says that old Acuras are used in illegal street races and sideshows. Did my car go to the sideshow-fearing Oakland? The Berkeley Police Department’s website lists 49 auto thefts within a one-mile radius of my home during the first half of this year. This site doesn’t tell how many of these vehicles were retrieved in what condition, but it does list exactly zero arrests resulting from these thefts. The Oakland Police Department’s website—for that city’s council District 4, an area about twice as large but with less population density than the truncated circular Berkeley area around my home—lists 498 auto thefts, says nothing about retrieval and isn’t about to publish figures showing essentially no resultant arrests. California, of course, leads the nation in auto thefts, with 252, 604 occurring in 2004, according to the federal Bureau of Justice—over two and a half times that of the next contender, Texas. 

Now, if Oakland is so worried about sideshow usage of such stolen cars, shouldn’t it get onto this problem and maybe convince Berkeley to do the same? Or will these police departments, besides never locating my car, stick a charge on me for not having installed a LoJack or CyntrX satellite locating system in my old compact 1989 car? Or will one of them, or some other jurisdiction, actually find my car. . .and chase it till it kills more innocent people? 

Yes, it would’ve been nice to have had a satellite-employing locating transceiver in my car. . .for my own use, not the cops’. But let’s see how that works with usual installations of such. Let us tool down to the Southland, where police high-speed chases on TV serve as bullfights for Anglos. The other night, on Inside Edition, an ex-owner of a fancy SUV with a slew of expensive extras on it, including two satellite locating devices, was shown sitting in pain, watching the cops chase his luxury vehicle—because both he and they were immediately warned by the equipment the moment the car was stolen. The dumb cops chose to chase the thing at once, rather than wait till it got located at a chop shop or whatever. Do peace officers down there get cuts from the TV entertainment people? Well, people getting killed turned out not to be in the script in this case; but the SUV nudged another vehicle badly and ran over a curb at high speed before being trapped by the police. So what was the end accomplishment of all this fancy locating gear? The car was totaled and the guy bought another one. The cops were no doubt fulfilled and –just this one time—life was not affected in La-La Land. My pocketbook is nowhere near so fat and happy as this SUV owner’s. 

But, back to curtailing auto theft: Could not police departments afford to purchase a number of popular old automobiles to use as decoys, installing hidden transmitting GPS units in them? They’d have to either switch such cars with each other quite often and/or repaint the vehicles to prevent their recognition—and perhaps they’d have to cover the cars’ transmitting signals with a steady signal from their station on the same frequency, in order to prevent a car’s signal from being noticed by a car thief with an appropriate receiver—the intermodulation of such two signals, however, remaining readable by the police as to the car’s location, while exhibiting enough complexity as to prevent a thief from being able to procure equipment that would let him be aware that a locating signal was being transmitted from their prey. If old Acuras connect to sideshows, Oakland for one city, should be hot to use them as decoys to bust up illegal procurement of such implements used dangerously in these shows. Let their cops who love to chase, and who may have trained in local street sideshows themselves, try out their speed on the track in Indianapolis. 

How come Americans can find so many high-tech ways to kill off people around the globe but can’t use a reasonable amount of not-exceedingly-complex equipment on the home front to keep people there alive and mobile? 


Raymond A. Chamberlin is Berkeley