RULE OF LAW
Sixty Minutes commentator Andy Rooney once did a piece describing how he sat at a red light late at night near his home in rural Connecticut, waiting in the middle of the night for the light to change, even though there was no other car in sight. He said he did it because he had respect for the law. If you respect the law, he said, you don’t make exceptions just because you’re not likely to get caught.
In order to respect the law, you have to feel part of a social contract. You have to feel that you have a say in the making of laws. If you complain to a policeman about the unfairness of a law he’s enforcing, he’ll advise you to write your Congressman. Police don’t make laws, they just enforce them.
In America, the police and courts have found it necessary to fill our prisons with a disproportionate number of people of color. Caucasians are a distinct minority in jail. The police will tell you this isn’t because of bias in policing, but rather because people of color are committing most of the crimes.
If so, then it’s obvious that more people of color disrespect the law more often than do white people. They feel left out of the social contract that makes laws in the first place.
I spent a great deal of my youth acutely aware that a bunch of old, white men, whom we conveniently called “The Man,” were willing to send us to Viet Nam or incarcerate us for doing recreational drugs. When I was nineteen I drove from Columbia, Missouri to Juarez, Mexico, and our car was stopped three times in one day by Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico state troopers looking for marijuana and demanding to see our draft cards. The sign at my local barber shop said “Love it or Leave It,” but the Man wanted to make sure we weren’t leaving.
So I have some sympathy for people who don’t feel as Andy Rooney did, that we’re all in this together, that our laws deserve respect.
Here, in Thailand, nobody respects traffic laws. It also doesn’t seem like most elected officials view their positions as anything more than a license to dispense favors to rich people. Recently, the Transportation Minister’s house was robbed while he was attending his daughter’s wedding. The police apprehended the culprits, who had about a million dollars worth of cash and gold. The burglars confessed that they had left much more behind. Huge sacks of money, more than they could possibly carry.
It turns out that there was about thirteen million dollars in cash in the house. When asked about it, the Minister said he had no idea where it had come from. One of his functions as Minister was to approve road construction projects, but he suggested that maybe his house keeper might know where all the money came from. He has been transferred to an inactive post. Not fired, mind you, just transferred.
Recently, the Thai military purchased a whole lot of hand-held bomb detectors from a small company in England. They paid quite a bit for them,but they don’t work. They’re little more than dowsing rods. The English police say they’re ready to make an arrest as soon as the Thai military files an official complaint, but that’s not going to happen, because then the Thai military would have to admit that they spent an obscene amount of public money on something they didn’t even bother to first test. They would have to say they made a mistake. And that would mean that somebody would lose face. So the money is gone and lost forever.
The National Chief of Police recently flew to Hong Kong to visit with Thaksin Shinnanatra, the deposed prime minister who fled the country after being found guilty of billions of dollars worth of graft. When it was suggested that it was the Police Chief’s sworn duty to arrest a fugitive from justice, he laughed and said “what can I do? He’s my brother-in-law.”
Bangkok police recently decided to stop issuing so many traffic tickets and simply issue warnings after drivers complained the tickets were hurting their finances. One motorcycle taxi driver told the Bangkok Post reporter that he gets several tickets a day for driving the wrong way down traffic-clogged streets, and it’s hard for him to support his family and pay the fines. Never was it mentioned that maybe he should stop driving the wrong way.
Here in Chiang Mai, they’ve installed walk lights and zebra-striped crosswalks at certain intersections, but they’re just a sick joke. Pedestrians foolish enough to trust that traffic would stop for them deserve to be hit.
Gone here are the days of girls on bicycles holding parasols. During a simpler time, it probably didn’t matter as much if one respected traffic laws, or not. But now that traffic is the major factor in public life, it matters a lot.