Among the many things we take for granted as we travel through life is that the places we travel through actually exist. Obviously, they exist physically, land, trees, road, but that they exist legally. After all, every tiny inch of dirt from sea to shining see has to be governed by someone, right?
Years ago, I awoke to find that someone had parked a backhoe on the corner of my property. When I mentioned something about it in a very loud voice, the explanation was that they didn’t realize it was anyone’s property. I responded, in an even louder voice, by asking if they really thought there was free-floating land in New York that wasn’t owned by somebody, still waiting to be claimed.
There is a ribbon of highway, a part of Route 301 in Florida, consisting of a grand total of 1,260 feet, that is owned by the city of Hampton. That 1,260 feet of highway is Hampton’s ATM, its cash machine, where the speed limit drops from 65 to 55, and if you blink, you missed it. Except Hampton doesn’t really exist.
I mean sure, it has land, trees and this 1,260 foot stretch of highway, but otherwise, it’s a sham.
Hidden by trash bins or concealed in a stretch of woods, the officers — a word loosely applied here — pointed their radar devices. Between 2011 and 2012, Hampton’s officers issued 12,698 speeding tickets to motorists, many most likely caught outside Hampton’s strip of county road.
But, as it turns out, surprised motorists are not the only ones getting burned. So many speeding tickets were churned out for so many years and with such brazenness that this city of 477 residents came under scrutiny — and not just for revenue raising with a radar gun.
Even this was a sham.
In pursuit of speeders, the city’s force grew to 17 from one, some of them volunteers and a few of them driving uninsured cars. Sheriff Smith said he did not know how many were actually police officers and how many were trained in radar detection. Fed up, the sheriff last year cut the police chief’s access to databases, radio communications and the use of the jail.
What does the mayor think about all this? Who knows? He has other things on his mind.
The new mayor, Barry Moore, is in jail awaiting trial for possession of Oxycodone with intent to sell. Credit: Edward Linsmier for The New York Times
The populist notion that the closer government is to the people, the more responsive it will be to their needs, is heartwarming. It’s also false in some instances.
There were mutterings about vanishing city funds; personal use of city credit cards, trucks and gas; and trips to Ms. Hall’s clutter-filled house to hand over cash payments for water bills for which she offered no receipts. Some residents were threatened with the loss of water — the one utility controlled by the city — if they made trouble, Mr. Smith said.
For all the money Hampton bring in from its speed trap, it’s broke and no one knows where the money went, except that it’s gone. Hampton, “a mishmash of trailers and wood-frame houses, some ramshackle, some not,” is one square mile that includes 1,260 feet of highway. But get a speeding ticket, from whoever is handing them out that day, and you pay it because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do.
We presume regularity. We presume that a local government exists, functions with some degree of normalcy, and makes a reasonable effort to comply with law. And then there’s Hampton. And before anyone else says it, there are Hamptons all over the country, tiny pockets that are essentially devoid of government, law, normalcy. They exist in the deep south and in the deep north, as well.
I’ve been to local courts where procedural law is not only ignored, but no one in the house has a clue what it is. And provided they don’t piss off too many people in the process, there is no oversight as to what these tiny fiefdoms do. Or don’t do.
I’ve seen local government where the local politicos, who are in office forever because no one else wants the job, are utterly clueless about any aspect of the job or law. They do whatever they please because there is no one around to challenge them. They just make it up, and they believe it’s their right to do so.
While lawyers and lawprofs spend their time pondering the nuances of Supreme Court opinions and proposed laws in Congress, there are pockets of utter lawlessness throughout the country. And yet few notice, fewer still question and if we are unfortunate enough to drive on their 1,260 feet of highway, chances are awfully good that they will get us.
Contrary to the assumption that most people have, there is no one watching over these tiny outlaw kingdoms, making sure that local governments pretend, at the very least, to adhere to the laws and ways of a municipality in the United States of America. They aren’t really governments at all, but you wouldn’t know it to get a ticket in their speed trap. And so you just pay.