Tuesday, August 28, 2012

If a Law Is Typically Ignored In a City, Is It Still a Law?

This political season gives us another opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of law in shaping conduct. According to the Connecticut Post, Christina Ayala, the Democratic candidate for a seat in the Connecticut General Assembly from the city of Bridgeport was arrested and charged for a recent incident.  According to police, Ayala, who was driving with two children in the car (ages 7 and 13) ran a red light, smashed into another vehicle rendering it a total loss, and then fled the scene.  Ayala issued a statement expressing regret for her "mis-judgment."

One might think that this incident could effect Ayala's chances of getting elected.  However, in a follow-up story, the Post reports that her political aspiration are likely intact.  Expressing a view apparently held by many, Ayala's father intimated that the other driver should have been more vigilant. "This is Bridgeport. People take stop signs, they take traffic lights every day."

Apparently, ignoring public safety laws is common in Bridgeport, destroying the very reason for the law's existence.  Instead of travelling the streets secure in a social contract that others will obey the law, you must conduct yourself as if this is the Wild West and everyone is free to make up their own rules. And soon, a person raised in and a participant in this environment will be elected to the legislature, ostensibly to make laws that everyone should feel free to ignore.

In teaching law to undergraduates, I had taken as a "given" that adherence to law is a universal value.  Now I see that I have to consider the effect of geographic and cultural differences on student understanding.  Some students may come from places where the law is commonly ignored.

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