Editorial: Both sides look bad in story about speed-trap sign

Published 10:22 am Friday, July 13, 2012

The story has made national news: A pedestrian in Houston was arrested for a flimsy reason after she held up a sign that warned motorists of a speed trap ahead.

In response, a Houston police officer arrested her for a misdemeanor charge of standing in a street where there is a sidewalk present, which the woman says the officer invented so he could detain her.

A sad, disturbing trend is growing, more so in big cities, where people do not support their law enforcement and law enforcement officers are afraid of the citizens. Both possess us-versus-them mentalities. Just read any story about police arresting citizens for videotaping police action, even from people’s own lawns.

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That said, conduct on both sides is horrible. Here’s why:

• Firstly, police need to learn to respect the laws they protect. Free speech is free speech. The First Amendment does not make an exception for warnings of speed traps or videotaping an arrest. In fact, the intent of free speech is to allow citizens to scrutinize their government, including the government’s police officers. Police must learn to work within the laws they have sworn an oath to protect and be professional enough to face citizen scrutiny. Whether she was on the sidewalk or in the street doesn’t matter because anyone who reads the story now knows the police confronted a woman because she exercised her free-speech rights. That’s a pure American belief, so no wonder there is an outpouring of support for her. The Houston city authorities should offer apologies for the overbearing conduct of the officer and let her go.

• Secondly, citizens need to support law enforcement. The sign woman held up was legal, but indeed she did not exercise good citizenship. She should have seen the speed trap as her tax dollars at work to make her neighborhood safer and a better place to live. Who knows if someday a child is struck because of speeders? A speed trap prompts motorists to obey laws. And while the woman or any citizen is free to speak against such laws, they also need to respect the laws and the people whose job it is to enforce those laws.

The story brings home another point. We are glad we live in Albert Lea, where people tend to practice good citizenship, such as serving on juries when asked, voting on election days and helping the police keep an eye on neighborhood problems. There is a small minority in Albert Lea who take the us-versus-them mentality to police. The overwhelming majority of residents possess a we-are-all-in-this-together mentality.

And that’s a wonderful thing.