By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
WVON radio host Mark Wallace believes that Black politicians in the city, county and state have neglected Black constituents on the issue of red light and speed camera tickets that disproportionately affect Blacks who live in low-income areas. He said none of the Black aldermen stood up before the cameras were placed “in the hood.” He said coming out against the program afterwards does nothing for constituents who have lost their cars, had their credit ruined, had to file for bankruptcy or lost jobs because they no longer had transportation to work.
“I don’t know if I can find the appropriate adjective to describe how disgusted I am with the feeling that we have no representation from the people of our community who really have a conscience,” Wallace told the Crusader earlier this week in response to the city’s settlement with those denied due process. “When Ken Dunkin was in office as a state representative, he did sponsor HB 472 but that was about it.”
That bill Dunkin originally proposed would have banned red light cameras throughout the entire state. When Dunkin was defeated in the last election, state Rep. David McSweeney picked up the bill and is trying to get it to the House floor for a vote. But Speaker of the House Michael Madigan has not called it for a vote. Wallace said it is a shame that a white state rep from one of the richest communities in the state has to be the one sponsoring a bill that disproportionately affects low-income Black people, while Black politicians sit by idle.
“It is rather disheartening… that none of our current representatives, in any legislative body, have lobbied their colleagues to get rid of this. Why? Because they are aligned to the Mayor as opposed to their constituents,” Wallace believes. “Our communities are hit the hardest. We have proven over and over this system is fleecing our public [Black community] hardest than anywhere else and our representatives all the way from the county to the state are not trying to do anything to eradicate the system. It’s unthinkable to me that this is what we have as representatives.”
Drivers who had their constitutional rights violated with the city’s red light and speed cameras ticketing program will be getting some relief after the city reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed last November. The $39 million settlement, which still has to get approval from the courts, would mean drivers who were denied due process on tickets from Jan. 10, 2010 to May 14, 2015 will be getting some of their money back. The city failed to give proper notice before finding drivers liable, which was the basis of the suit. In addition many vehicle owners, who could not pay the initial fine in time, were hit with a late penalty by the city.
Wallace is also a spokesperson for Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras. He said last week’s settlement is a step in the right direction.
“This class action lawsuit was not about the legality of the cameras although that is our ultimate goal; the abolishment of that system,” Wallace explained. “We went after the city because the city violated the very fundamental right of our judicial process, which is anyone who is accused of an illegal act, has the constitutional right to due process and the city neglected and failed to do that. We could only sue them for the most recent violations of five years due to the statute of limitations.”
What the process will be for drivers to apply for a refund is still being worked on. Mayor Emanuel said by settling the city is admitting it was at fault. Had the city not reached an agreement, it could have been on the hook for over a quarter of a billion dollars. But Emanuel also said the cameras will remain in place now that the process for appeals is in place, although a separate lawsuit on the legality of the cameras themselves is still in pending.
“With our payment today, we’re going to right the wrongs from years in the past,” Emanuel said.
But 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, who was has spoken out against the program said the amount people are going to get back is nothing compared to the heartache the program has caused for drivers. He said the program has unfairly targeted motorists in Black, low-income areas.
“We’re trying to balance the books on the backs of people who can least afford to pay,” said Beale, the City Council Transportation Committee chairman at last week’s council meeting. “If you recall, years ago I said the whole red light camera issue was more about revenue than it was about public safety.”
In the meantime Wallace is encouraging citizens by getting involved. He stresses that people must be informed on what their rights are and once they know, they will see how the red and speed light camera program is illegal and morally wrong. His group hosts a meeting every Friday night at Logos Baptist Church 10833 S. Halsted to keep citizens informed. He also encouraged citizens to visit the website banthecameras. com for more information. But he says the biggest thing everyone can do is call their representatives.
“You need to call your alderman, your Cook County commissioner, your state senator and state representative and tell them you want these cameras gone,” he said.
Eight states currently have laws on the books which prohibit red light cameras. Another 18 states do not even have the cameras and have no plans of adding them. Major cities like Houston and Phoenix have done away with the cameras even although their states’ laws allow for their use.