The citizen-led groups that want the public to decide the future of red light cameras are racist, according to lawsuits filed by American Traffic Solutions (ATS) in a pair of Texas cities. The Arizona-based photo enforcement firm filed in a state court in Baytown on Thursday and then an ATS-funded front group filed an identical case in a federal court in Houston on Friday. Residents in both cities signed petitions placing a ban on automated ticketing machines onto the November 2 ballot, but ATS cites the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a reason to block these votes.
“Because the camouflaged referendum has been improperly placed on the ballot, a potential for racial discrimination exists,” Houston lawyer Andy Taylor wrote on behalf of ATS. “More specifically, minority voters may lose their ability to elect candidates of their choice in local, statewide and federal offices.”
The company used the same argument in Baytown.
“The city has created a scenario whereby voters who oppose the safety camera program — a group that historically tends to vote in a conservative manner — will vote in greater numbers than would otherwise have turned out for a November 2, 2010 election,” Taylor wrote.
The ATS claim may come as a surprise to the diverse groups behind anti-camera petition efforts elsewhere in the country. In East Cleveland, Ohio the group Black on Black Crime led the effort to gather signatures for a referendum. In Cincinnati, the anti-camera coalition included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Green Party. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also battled cameras in Iowa and Rhode Island. Baytown initiative sponsor Byron Schirmbeck suggested the traffic camera industry was disguising its true aim with the racism charge.
“For ATS to claim that they are only concerned with the rights of minorities when their abusive and dangerous camera systems disproportionately attack a larger portion of the minority community’s income smacks of hypocrisy,” Schirmbeck told TheNewspaper. “They don’t care about minorities, or the majority of voters who oppose their systems and tactics. Like any corporation their primary obligation is to profitability. Across the country, wherever we see citizens rising up to say no to the cameras we see the camera companies trying to stop them for the sole reason of protecting their revenue.”
ATS is also using the media to tar the initiative sponsors, with success in major outlets like the Houston Chronicle.
“On the other hand, the financial heft and organization behind the camera opponents comes largely from traffic-court attorneys,” a September 4 editorial stated. “Since camera-generated citations are based on car ownership and are more difficult to challenge in court than officer-issued traffic tickets, they bite into the lawyers’ business.”
The Chronicle has no evidence to support this claim first developed by ATS hired gun Jim McGrath. The Baytown referendum is headed by Byron Schirmbeck, who is not a lawyer and depends on donations from residents and visitors to the SaferBaytown.com website. Of the ten successful anti-camera petitions around the country, only the one in Steubenville, Ohio was organized by an attorney — except that lawyer’s practice focused on personal injury. The number of regular traffic citations has not decreased in Houston as a result of automated enforcement.