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David and His Goliaths

Mises Daily: Monday, December 02, 2002 by

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David is a remarkably diligent businessman from Mesa, Arizona, and his Goliaths are the many arms of the State.  David made an enemy of the State because he dared to legally push the boundaries of the police state.  He did so during a crusade aimed at the prevention of further regime encroachment into the lives of others.  David's story is one of principle and perseverance, as described by Arizona resident Ernest Hancock, the man who was enlisted to assist David with his struggles.  Here is David's story.

David's business is producing and selling license plate loovers, heroic devices that preclude photo radar devices from taking legible photos of license plates.  His product was designed so that the slant of the loovers would make unreadable any photos taken from an angle of typically twenty-five degrees or beyond, making elevated photo radar cameras ineffectual.  And this in turn necessarily alleviates a citation for the driver.  The loovers do, however, enable total visibility from street level, at least as far as the 100 feet required by law.  Therefore, the police should have no beef you say?  Just wait.        

Entrepreneurs in the free market act upon the need for products and services, and thus generate technology like that used in photo radar.  Inevitably, the market will then create a competing device to produce results for those consumers who desire to isolate the unwanted effects of photo radar.  Such is the magnificence of human ingenuity.  Such is the glory of David's device.

David, a man with a wife and three children, invested his personal savings in order to produce and market his very legal product.  He ran TV commercials to advertise the product, and he put together a website that enables buyers to purchase the loovers online.  Sales were brisk, and David's business was taking off, though gaining him a low profit margin in the process.  That hardly mattered, as David held dearly the notion that he would forsake earnings in order to combat the highly invasive photo radar campaign of the State.  

At Wells Fargo bank, David maintained a merchant bank account for the credit card money deposits from the sales of his product.  One day, Wells Fargo elected to freeze David's merchant account with no explanation forthcoming.  The bank steadfastly refused to return David's phone calls or e-mails.    

According to Ernest Hancock, a local television station in Phoenix called, saying "they had been tipped off that David was committing a fraud by offering the device for free, but charging $14.95 for shipping and handling."  In fact, David had started his own company to handle the shipping and handling duties, and incurred hefty expenses due to Federal Express charges, web page upkeep, and charges incurred to his phone ordering company.  So profits were insignificant.  Yet somehow, David's methods were deemed fraudulent.

Upon the freezing of his account, David immediately contacted Marc Victor, a local lawyer and libertarian activist who has often dealt in freedom issues.  According to Mr. Victor, there was not much he could do until David actually received a citation for his device, therefore allowing him to obtain a ruling.  

What to do?  Call on Ernest Hancock. 

Upon Hancock's advice, David began to seek that glorious citation.  He did this by driving his car down to the police station with his loover device applied to his license plate.  Mesa's Radar Enforcement Department, under the jurisdiction of the Police Department, had agreed to inspect the device.  David had a brother come along to videotape the ensuing events.  Channel 15 was also present.

Amidst the Channel 15 cameras, a police officer, and a city attorney, the challenge was on.  If David was "illegal" he surely would get his citation.  Upon examination of David's license plate, the inspecting officer came to a point approximately five feet from the rear of the car where he claimed he could no longer read the plate.  Keep in mind the 100-foot visibility law.  He made it clear he would issue David a ticket if he was caught using the device on the road.  

What followed is a display of ingenuity, egged on by Mr. Hancock in his preparations with David.  As Hancock tells it:

David asked if a truck had its tailgate down, then would it be in violation according to the officer.  The officer said yes.  Many new trucks are advertised as having their tailgates down to allow for more storage, and have a fold-down cage for this.  David looked across the police parking lot to see in plain view a truck with its tailgate down, and instructed the officer to make sure that driver got a ticket.  The cameras swung around to videotape the truck, and the police knew they were in trouble.  

David was instructed to never allow the TV camera to see him taking the loover device off his car since that is exactly what they were hoping to show, in order to claim a victory.  David might as well have closed shop if he did that.  But getting a ticket was the only way we were going to get a ruling and have some fun, and we were certain to keep this issue in the courts for at least a year or two while the government paid for the time.  But we needed the citation to have all of this fun.  David told the officer and the Mesa city attorney that he was going to drive out onto the public street and back so that he could get his ticket.  Meanwhile his brother was taping the whole thing.

David took his automobile on its leisurely stroll – out into the street and back again.  Realizing that they'd been snaked, the police officer and city attorney concurred on the non-issuance of a citation.  Since it was sweeps week, Channel 15 took what video they got from David and plugged it on the air: a simple video of his car with the loovers installed and working as promised.  David even snuck in a license plate with his web URL, and received 6000-plus hits to his website upon the station running the three-minute spot!  The Mesa police Department and City Council reportedly were upset at what they construed to be an ambush by Channel 15.  What a joy it is to make bureaucrats squirm!

David's case is clearly one of taking on the ruling regime and paying the price.  The regime rules by coercion and overt threats to person and property.  It lays down arbitrary laws to which its citizens must submit.  And the regime makes sure that all those who challenge it pay a price.  

In a related story, a similar situation happened in Denver.  Earlier this year a judge had tossed out four photo-radar tickets, citing various illegalities by the Denver Police Department, including allowing the photo radar contractor to send out summons to accused speeders.  Judge Mary Celeste said "city law allows only the police department to prepare and send the complaint."  According to Denver's ABC affiliate, the judge also said "the system may illegally reward the contractor for the number of photos it takes."

According to the minutes of a January 1998 meeting of the Committee on Transportation for the Arizona House of Representatives, Mesa council member Joan Payne "spoke against photo radar and asserted that Mesa implemented photo radar with the intention of having it serve as revenue enhancement specifically for the police department."  Ms. Payne also "asked the Committee to be cognizant of the flow of money and acknowledge the lobbying taking place in support of photo radar (for the cities, vendors, and insurance companies)."  

Follow the money, as they say.

Indeed, revenue enhancement has become big business for localities.  The revenue scams revolve around changing the timing of yellow lights to nab more folks running red lights; setting up arbitrary speed zones; creating seat belt swindles, such as "Click It or Ticket"; and in general just wreaking havoc on otherwise law-abiding citizens.  And the contractors of these devices get in on the goods as well.  Quite often, they receive kickbacks based on quota systems set up between them and the local police departments, as Judge Celeste attested to in her ruling.  

In this case, the government – and not private commerce - was the impetus for the production of the photo radar devices, not out of proven necessity, but out of a desire to fill its coffers.  The message in this story is that the creations of a free market are sanctioned when they benefit the State, but there is hell to pay when entrepreneurial ingenuity encroaches upon the profits nabbed by government regimes at the expense of its citizens.  Similarly, exploding technology in the realm of police radar devices is entirely permissible, while many states make radar detection devices illegal and have the power to assess huge fines to drivers for just having them on the dashboard of their car.

To this day, David still has no explanation or solution for the freezing of his bank account, but hopefully this opponent of evil will prevail.  Freedom Warriors like Ernest Hancock and Marc Victor are plucky in their efforts to help David stamp out the illegitimate thuggery of those in power.

Like Goliath and the Philistines, the State has camped out on a hill that overlooks David's activities, and its words are clear: dare to kill and defeat us, or surrender your freedom.  The biblical David slung his stone and flattened the giant Goliath.  David then proceeded to take the giant's sword from its sheath and cut off his head.


Karen De CosterKaren De Coster, CPA is a freelance writer and Business Consultant in the Midwest. Send her MAIL and see her Mises.org Articles Archive. Also, see her website at www.karendecoster.com

A special acknowledgement goes out to Ernest Hancock (MAIL) of Arizona, whose private e-mails inspired the title and provided the details of this story. See Ernest and Marc Victor’s FreedomSummit website.