By on September 6, 2010

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 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.


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13 Comments on “Texas: ATS Labels Anti-Traffic Camera Initiatives Racist...”

  • avatar

    Greed trumps any form of logic, even il-logic.

  • avatar

    So if we follow ATS’s logic, the entire 2008 Presidential election was racist against white people, because with a black man on the ticket, black people were more likely to vote and elect people who support their issues, thus disadvantaging white people. Wait a minute, that sounds right. I must be watching too much Glenn Beck.

  • avatar

    But wait… wouldn’t denying voters the chance to vote on the issue entirely be considered wholesale disenfranchisement.
    STOP VOTIST CORPORATIONS NOW! Discrimination against ballots is discrimination against all!

  • avatar

    But the cameras themselves already discriminate against <insert stereotype here> who, as everybody knows, drive too fast and run red lights!

  • avatar

    In 21st century America, throwing out the word ‘racist’ is merely an attempt at manipulating someone else’s behavior.  Nothing more.
    If we can’t shame them into compliance by throwing that accusation against them, our next step is to compare them to Hitler.
    It’s too bad it’s been cheapened that way.

  • avatar
    George B

    You’ve won when the opposition runs out of logical arguments and has to pull out the race card.
    Not sure about Baytown, but two intersection design conditions seem to manufacture violations:  reduced yellow light time and stop bars painted way back from the intersection.  Short yellows catch more drivers in the intersection when the light turns red, often because of traffic congestion.  Poorly placed stop bars catch drivers “failing to stop” when they stop where you can see and then turn right on red.  ATS appears to deliberately change intersections to increase violation revenue.

    • 0 avatar

      The full Monty is to first short the green so you have hapless drivers to feed into shortened yellows. The green should be long enough to better than average drain the queue.

      For the yellow, the ITE minimum is 3 seconds which is based on super ideal conditions with zero safety factor. Recall when human safety is involved, the safety factor is 5. The State of Georgia adds one second when cameras are in use, effectively making the minimum 4 seconds. At 4 seconds, accidents, tickets, and revenue plummet. OH MY!

      The four seconds should not be  measured by some control inside the traffic controller, which does not take into consideration all kinds of electronic delays as capacitors charge and discharge, but by measuring the light at the 66% illumination level. Shoot it with a video camera then use the timing stamp to prove the traffic controller is not properly calibrated (it won’t be).

      That should be enough to beat the ticket, proving the yellow is unsafely short and uncalibrated.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Sigh. Just another evil corporation…
    On a positive note, this is proof that they’re getting desperate. So maybe we should be happy.

  • avatar

    Being black I’d like to punch these people in the mouth. Green is the only color they are interested in. Stirring up racial strife doesnt work any more. Time for voters to think.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    ATS makes the claim that when conservatives vote, “minority voters may lose their ability to elect candidates of their choice in local, statewide and federal offices.”
    If the court holds that to be true, then no conservative should ever be allowed to cast a vote.
    Following this logic, if a minority person casts a vote for a conservative candidate(hey, it happens), they are also guilty of discrimination and disenfranchisement.
    You expect crazy talk like that from some enraged teaching assistant of Justice Studies at some minor California community college, not a cash-for-surveillance outfit like ATS.

  • avatar

    It boggles my mind how much horribleness – from this to confiscations of property – is the direct result of fines and seizures going to local departments.

    Send revenue to the general fund and the perverse incentive disappears.

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