Totalitarian societies are fond of little flourishes of power like making the family of the condemned pay for the bullet used to execute him. The United States is not a totalitarian society like that — though when it convicts you of a victimless crime like personal drug use, it will make you pay the cost of your probation or supervised release.
But damn it, it's not for lack of trying.
Via TJIC, I give you a portrait of life in the People's Republic of Massachusettstan, where if you own property, you'd better have money saved up to fix it if the government damages it, or you're going to get hauled into court:
Ian Cotterell got bad news Monday night when he learned that a city tow truck had plowed into a Roxbury apartment building he owns, blasting a hole in the brick facade and forcing his 17 tenants to vacate. Yesterday, he got more bad news: The city is ticketing him.
After building inspectors examined the building to assess damage from the crash, they cited Cotterell for “structural defects’’ including collapsed bricks, damaged windows, and other “unsafe and dangerous’’ conditions, according to an order issued by the city yesterday.
The order noted that a Boston Transportation Department truck “drove into building,’’ but it also ordered Cotterell to fix the problems within 24 hours and appear in court.
You might think that, if your government damages your property while wearing its truck-driving hat, it might take some responsibility for the expense of the damages while wearing its building-inspector hat. But no! We have rules, and due process, you know — at least for the benefit of the government:
Both officials said the city does not want rush to judgment about what happened Monday night, saying accidents unfortunately happen.
“We don’t want to start using words like blame and who’s at fault until the outcome of the investigation is completed,’’ Tinlin said.
You see, there are any number of scenarios where this could have been Ian Cotterell's fault, and not the government's. He could have deliberately owned a building in a place where he knew a city-trained driver might want to drive, for instance. Or maybe he painted one of those Wile E. Coyote tunnels on the side of his place. Those are tricksy.
Now, mind you, that reservation of judgment applies only to the government and its employees, not to peons like Ian Cottrerell:
City officials said that issuing citations to the landlord is standard operating procedure whenever a car crashes into a building, causing damage that makes it dangerous, and it is his responsibility to pay for any damages.
Come to court, and pay up, Ian! Note that this is not a situation where Ian Cotterell left the damage unaddressed for weeks or months or years. No, he was ticketed and hauled into court within a day of the government causing the same damage that it was ticketing him about. Citizen Cotterell should have arranged to have the damages fixed that evening before a building inspector could arrive, you see. That's feasible. Everyone knows how efficient, quick, and inexpensive Boston construction is.
Meanwhile, what about the government employee driving the truck? If this were China, and a party official ran down some citizen in the street, there would be no chance of anything resembling justice. But this is America. We hold government responsible, don't we? If you run a truck into something that is not, technically, in the road — like a building — it's self-evident that you did something wrong, isn't it? There will be consequences, right?
Police are investigating, and the driver is on paid administrative leave while an internal investigation proceeds.
A vacation! God, how brutal we are. And if the government attempts to inflict some actual consequences on the driver that don't involve paying him to watch TV, you can bet that America's party bosses — the public employee unions — will fight tooth and nail to shield him from any consequences whatsoever for his behavior, whatever that behavior might be.
The government's actions here are a signifier. In a government that was actually accountable in any meaningful way to its citizens, government employees would shy away from fining a man for having been harmed by the government. Even if the government employees lacked the rudimentary intelligence, decency, or humanity to recognize that such a citation was offensive and ridiculous, they would realize that the citation was so outrageous as to threaten them with actual consequences from the citizens. They would recognize that hauling a man into court for having had his property smashed by a government driver might result in some negative consequences to them. They would, at least, hesitate.
They didn't hesitate here.
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