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January 10th, 2006

Smokey is the Bandit — in the Palisades

by D. Clark MacPherson

How many old movies have you watched where the unsuspecting city slicker drives through a one horse town and gets pulled over by a good ol’ boy in a uniform with a gun who fleeces the out of towner; Even taking cash on the barrelhead for fines.

Lots of jokes have been memorialized or found their way into film history using this very colorful description of how small town “Justice” Courts have managed to do a thriving business in screwing the unsuspecting driver who’s just passing through.

But, just so you don’t get too relaxed, be aware of the fact that those of you making the trip along the Palisades on your way to a better life, may want to rethink your route. Seems that while Smokey has retired from extorting those passing through some small Southern towns, there still is a thriving business in ripping off New York drivers — in our neighboring state of New Jersey. The culprits, operating through the Justice Court for the Village of Alpine in New Jersey, have been filling their coffers at the expense of vehicles passing through their section of the Palisades highway. Reports of harassment and patently illegal law enforcement methods have surfaced from New York drivers, who are easily identifiable by their license plates. Descriptions range from “profiling” to “extortion.” Reportedly, local police pull New York drivers over for minor offences, including speeding (of which we are all sadly guilty), and then terrorize them into permitting searches of their vehicles in an attempt to find anything that will incriminate them. A black woman from New York was recently brought into court in leg chains because the partial remains of a joint was found in her car during one of these egalitarian searches. She was arrested, booked and incarcerated and unfortunately did not have enough money to be released on bail.

Remember, these are drivers whose worst crime may be modestly surpassing the speeding limit. They are being cross-examined, forced up against their cars and searched, and then arrested and shackled. They are driving through, rangers. They are not criminals roaming the streets of downtown Alpine, New Jersey threatening the populace. This is a local extortion ring operating under the guise of law and order.

Another young woman foolishly had an ounce of pot in her car and was facing 5 years in prison and $35,000 in fines. Mind you, these draconian laws are applying to highway drivers looking to avoid New Jersey, not stay anywhere near this wonderful little haven of happiness. Its not like these laws are enforced to protect the angels that live in the community through which the highway passes.

We do not condone the use of any drugs, nor alcohol for that matter; and certainly not consuming anything stronger than a double espresso before or during the operation of a motor vehicle. But even Bush would look at this little operation as simply a form of extortion at the expense of New Yorkers. So, either avoid driving through New Jersey via the Palisades or set the cruise control to 50 m.p.h and have your car detailed inside and out before daring to take that route. Maybe having your lawyer travel with you until you get out of this particular town might be a good idea.

And, then, perhaps you might want to call the U.S. Attorney’s Office and suggest they do a sting operation in Alpine – and then find out where all of the money is going once the courts get their vig. After all, this is illegal profiling–big time.

Filed Under: Articles | New York | Politics

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