A local journalist Tuesday put city government on notice about what he calls a “persistent threat to many poor people, immigrants, and members of minority communities” — namely police enforcement during traffic stops.
“Since at least 1938 Tennesseans have been harassed by deputies and police officers who enforce commercial traffic laws against members of the traveling public who in fact are not commercial for-profit operators at all, but are private users of the public right of way,” said David Tulis, 58, editor of Nooganomics.com and host of a business and law talk show at NoogaRadio 92.7 FM 95.3 FM HD4.
The city’s self-styled “blogger with the biggest pen” handed council members a 20-page “transportation administrative notice,” a research paper choked with legal citations he said “puts city employees on good faith notice” about enforcement limits in the state’s transportation law.
“Most people on the road today are not involved in what state law and court rulings call transportation. They’re not involved in traffic. They’re not operators of motor vehicles. They’re not drivers. They are not involved in the regulable service of being for hire on the roadways in a for-profit capacity. These people aren’t providing the service of moving goods or people for hire — all these acts subject to state regulation in the public interest for the public health, safety and welfare.”
“And yet our jails are full, our court dockets are bulging with people trapped in Hamilton County’s prison-industrial complex — poor people, immigrants and minorities who are merely using the road privately for their own personal pleasure and necessity but who have been caught up under law enforcement action and unable to pay the cash bond to get out. These poor people are seized because by all evidences they are involved in transportation — but many, many aren’t. Legally they’re not, and in fact they’re not,” Tulis said. “A dead tag light bulb, a brake light out, failing to use an indicator light, and other rules of the road are snares that let cops harass and injure people who in fact are not operators in commerce, but mistaken citizens. These are just people caught in an administrative trap. They got driver licenses in ignorant mistake and error. They’re stuck — they don’t know how to get free.”
Tulis called Title 55 and Title 65 of the Tennessee Code Annotated “pretexts” that “by custom and enforcement sever the people from the free exercise of their God-given, constitutionally guaranteed, unalienable and inherent rights” and “entangle them with government and its agents and make them subject to arrest when no crime has been committed.”
Tulis, who identifies as a “classical liberal and devout Christian,” said his notice intends to make officers and governments aware of the travel-transportation distinction, and to have more respect for citizens using the roadways “outside the scope, authority and purview” of the transportation law.
“How many police killings have we heard about that started with enforcement of traffic laws? How many people are now dead who were just private people who mistakenly entered into administrative jurisdiction? They did that by obtaining a driver license and getting tags for their cars and becoming subject to state enforcement.”
Tulis cited the June 24, 2017, traffic stop of Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod as “a typical traffic stop.” In a statement he recounted the “dreary experience of black men such as council member Anthony Byrd, who says he has been ‘stopped by police 20, 30, 40 times, too many to count,’ walking and driving while black,” as examples of abuses he asks the city halt.
“At best, it is a rebuttable presumption that any one person in a car is involved in transportation. It’s the liberty and personal duty of that person, I would hope, to notify the officer that he is a private user and is not required to have or exhibit a driver license. Otherwise, that traveler is a driver under the law, and subject to the statute that he exhibit on demand a driver license, proof of registration and insurance.”
Court rulings declare there is no right to drive or operate a motor vehicle on the public roads. The Tennessee supreme court recently upheld convictions of a criminal defendant, Arthur Jay Hirsch in Lawrence County, who in a 2015 trial insisted he was not using the roadway in transportation, but privately.