A radio journalist Thursday put East Ridge government on notice about what he calls a “persistent threat to many poor people, immigrants, and members of minority communities” — namely police enforcement during traffic stops.
“Since at least 1938 Tennesseans have been harassed by deputies and police officers who enforce commercial traffic laws against members of the traveling public who in fact are not commercial for-profit operators at all, but are private users of the public right of way,” said David Tulis, 58, who calls himself “the blogger with the biggest pen. He is a morning talk show host at CBS Radio and Bloomberg affiliate NoogaRadio 92.7 FM 95.3 FM HD4 in East Ridge.
Tulis handed council members a 20-page “administrative notice,” a research paper peppered with law and court citations he says “puts city employees on good faith notice” about enforcement limits in the state transportation law.
“Most people on the road today are not involved in what state law and court rulings call transportation,” Tulis said. “They’re not involved in traffic. They’re not operators of motor vehicles. They’re not drivers. They are not involved in the regulable service of being for hire on the roadways in a for-profit capacity. These people aren’t providing the service of moving goods or people for hire — all these acts subject to state regulation in the public interest for the public health, safety and welfare.”
“And yet our jails are full, Judge [Cris] Helton’s traffic dockets are bulging with people trapped in Hamilton County’s police-industrial complex — minorities such as Tiffany McQuinn, Jeremy Sheppard and Christina Wright, immigrants such as Gricelda Salanic and poor people who are merely using the road privately for their own personal pleasure and necessity.
“They’ve been caught up under law enforcement action and unable to pay either fines or the cash bond to get out of jail. These people are arrested because by all evidences they are involved in transportation. But I didn’t witness a single defendant Tuesday from a 113-person docket who was involved in transportation. Legally they’re not drivers and operators, and in fact they’re not,” Tulis said.
“A dead tag light, a brake light out, failing to use an indicator light, and other rules of the road are snares that let cops harass people who in fact are not operators in commerce, but mistaken citizens. These are just people caught in an administrative trap. They got driver licenses in ignorant mistake and error. They’re stuck — they don’t know how to get free.”
Tulis called Title 55 and Title 65 of the Tennessee Code Annotated “pretexts that by custom and enforcement sever the people from the free exercise of their God-given, constitutionally guaranteed, unalienable and inherent rights” and “entangle them with government and its agents and make them subject to arrest when no crime has been committed.”
He proposes that Mayor Brent Lambert order a new question at the beginning of every traffic stop to clarify a person’s status and determine if the person in the car is truly subject to Title 55:
“Ma’am [or, Sir], are you using this car in a commercial or for-profit capacity — are you employed at this moment by a company or business carrying goods or people for hire today, ma’am?”
Tulis said that if the person in the car says “no,” the officer has no further authority and must say the traveler is free to go. If the individual says “yes,” the officer has authority to demand inspection of driver license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration.
Tulis, who identifies as a “classical liberal and practicing Christian,” worked 24 years as a copy editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He said his notice intends to make East Ridge government and police officers aware of the travel-transportation distinction, and to have respect for citizens using the roadways “outside the scope, authority and purview” of the Title 55 transportation law.
“It is a rebuttable presumption that any one person in a car is involved in transportation. It’s the liberty and personal duty of that person, I would hope, to notify the officer that he is a private user and is not required to have or exhibit a driver license. Otherwise, that traveler is a driver under the law, and subject to the statute that he exhibit on demand a driver license, proof of registration and insurance.”
Tulis faces an uphill battle in getting officials to reject existing policy that controls practice in 100 percent of Tennessee cities and counties. Court rulings declare there is no “right to drive” or operate a motor vehicle on the public roads. The Tennessee Supreme Court recently upheld convictions of a criminal defendant, Arthur Jay Hirsch in Lawrence County, who in a 2015 trial insisted he was not using the roadway in transportation, but privately.