COLUMN: First Amendment assemblies are the right course of action

Tuesday, March 9, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:32 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

During the week past, there were two front page stories of local peaceful assemblies in protest of perceived wrongs committed by private parties as well as by government. Whether one agrees with the premises of the requested redress of unfair or injurious act, they employed the proper forum for discussion and possible resolution.

The first such activity was the Feb. 26 protest against the use of red light cameras, by a group loosely organized as Liberty on the Rocks, its informal mission advertised as one to educate the public. The message is clearly anti-red light camera, the major complaints registered being that the cameras cause accidents by altering driver reactions to caution lights, the identity of the driver cannot be determined without a clear photo of both the license plate and the operator, that the cameras are installed solely for revenue generation and the oft quoted invasion of privacy issue.

That these Libertarian-leaning activists believe in their crusade is not questioned. Their right to these convictions is fundamentally protected as are those of every citizen; nevertheless, opinions cannot be advertised as facts. For example, the notion that the cameras are a merely a cash cow for the city is easy to debunk. The cameras were installed as a safety mechanism in response to multiple complaints of running red lights–the result has been a steady decline in violations from an initial surge after installation.

The claim that the camera promotes unsafe driving by operator panic in speeding or braking is equally suspect. As a licensed driver for nearly 60 years, I have yet to experience difficulty recognizing yellow, green or red lights, nor have I nor any acquaintance seen any need to alter driving habits due to camera presence. And, contrary to popular misinformation, there is no expectation of privacy in a public venue, whether street or sidewalk.

The case for driver identification is equally weak. While it may not be possible for positive identification of the vehicle's operator, the owner, even if not the driver, is responsible for the vehicle and for the actions of the person he or she has permitted its use–unless the vehicle is reported stolen. We are guaranteed certain unalienable rights, but nowhere does the Constitution advertise a right to shirk personal responsibility.

The second, and enduring, front page news was triggered by morons, probably fortified with copious quantities of adult beverage, who enacted the incredibly stupid, racially insensitive strewing of cotton balls on the grounds of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. With absolutely no justification for this senseless act by obviously half-witted loony tunes, the community's outrage was quick and embraced by all.

Nevertheless, as is the case with most actions of an abominable or repulsive nature, there is bound to be an overreaction–such is the nature of Homo sapiens. The collective outcry was spontaneous and proper; the condemnation of this obviously racially motivated insult was uniform throughout the community and university . But, in my opinion, the town meeting and the hue and cry for new and improved diversity training is overkill.

Now, I am not about to insult anyone's intelligence by pretending to understand the nuances of the black experience in America–I have not experienced the overt or veiled racism they have incurred nor can I relate to that treatment. It is equally absurd to conclude that we have overcome all racism as it is to claim there has been no progress in the struggle. Not surprisingly, however, the reaction to the cotton incident tacitly indicts an entire community over the asinine actions of a brace of brain-dead louts.

On the fringes of every society, one can find moon bats and lunatics–in my experience, in each random grouping of 100 people, 5 percent qualify. No amount of diversity training nor meetings, nor oral or written censure will put an appreciable dent in residual racist or other unreasonable hatreds or phobias. While naivete or even ignorance are possible to eradicate though education, you cannot fix stupid.

I realize fully my opinion will not obtain universal agreement and, that in some quarters will not be well received at all. Nonetheless, in the interests of objectivity, it needs to be said–to achieve true balance, all areas of agreement and disagreement must be presented–if only as a devil's advocate. In areas of controversy, cultural environment often stirs heated exchanges and rifts. At these times a referee is a welcome addition.

Thus, the peaceable assemblies described are First Amendment activities as they should be and the concerns voiced should not be swept under the rug. The solutions need be tempered by reason, as draconian measures instituted by anger or a revenge motive will most surely widen the existing rift. Regardless of the best of intentions, the remedy often extends the misery.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Don Milsop March 10, 2010 | 8:29 p.m.

Regarding the red light camera issue, this was thoroughly discussed on Lone Star Times and a sufficient amount of clear data shown regarding camera malfunction to make the accuracy of the results provided by the cameras to be of questionable value.

Most states have laws stating that you are in violation if you enter the interection AFTER the light turns red. In order for this to be accurately known, you would need a film loop, not a still picture to indicate whether or not a violation had actually occured. Many municipalities who had installed these systems had failed to properly maintain and calibrate them.

Additionally, many municipalities fail to provide yellow lights operating at DOT and USTA standards of one half second per 5 miles per hour of speed. Unfortunately meeting those standards can disrupt their traffic patterns and impeded flow. But by the standard, a light at a 45 MPH intersection should show a yellow light for 8.5 seconds. We know this just doesn't happen. The U.S. Department of Transportation adopted the Manual On Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The manual defines traffic control devices as all signs, signals, markings, and other devices used to regulate, warn, or guide traffic, placed on, over, or adjacent to a street, highway, pedestrian facility, or bikeway by authority of a public agency having jurisdiction. The manual is incorporated by reference in 23 CFR, Part 655, subpart f, and is recognized as the national standard for traffic control devices on all public roads open to travel in accordance with 23 USCA §§ 109(d) and 402(a).

Something of far more value in saving lives and preventing injuries and property damage would be to do what several cities have done. When a green light is getting stale, it starts to blink about 5 to 10 seconds before changing. This give a driver the necessary time to judge speed and distance and make an informed decision to continue or to prepare to stop.

Putting a timer on a light to produce a blinking green is a far cheaper route than any camera system. And if the end goal is to save lives, injuries, and property damage, this is a far more effective and cost savings measure than a camera system.

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