Friday, January 30, 2015

Parrhesia: A Candid Reckoning

Parrhesia is an ancient term dating from at least the 5th C. BC that conjures in these modern times a bold request or speech seeking or asking for truth is its purest form, which some have also translated into the quest for unbridled justice.  I found the word in a recent article written by Corel West concerning the American civil rights leader (and sometimes agitator) Malcolm X.  I have thought of "parrhesia" in relation to my recent Tuesday afternoon experience renewing my taxi for-hire license.  The asking for yearly fingerprints and King County's request for a complete driving history over a five-year span including dismissed tickets and not-at-fault accidents seemed inherently unfair and odd, suggesting connotations and implications going far beyond a simple license renewal, bringing to my mind the worse of "Jim Crow" voting rules once known in the American South.  Twice today I called Eddie Cantu, the current King County Licensing Manager, seeking clarification but failed to reach him, wanting to understand more what is behind these new requirements.  As I will always say, driving taxi is insulting as it is without inflicting further and unnecessary injury.  Any possible insinuation of criminal intent (however minor) remains uncalled for.

This quote, taken from Simone Weil's  (1909-1943) essay "On Human Personality," underlines my concern:

"Every time that there arises from the depths of a human heart the childish cry which Christ himself could not restrain, "Why am I being hurt?", then there is certainly injustice.  For, if, as often happens, it is only the result of a misunderstanding, then the injustice consists in the inadequacy of the explanation."

On one section of the renewal application form it implies an equal guilt of everything that might have happened to the driver minus any and all thorough examination.  How can an accident caused by another driver's negligence be construed as holding equal responsibility?   And how can a dismissed ticket assume something other than innocence?

In my recent court case I had a letter from the head of SPD's Traffic Division stating that I should have, 1) never been stopped, and 2) never issued the ticket.  How can this be taken as an example of reckless or careless behavior?   What King County appears to be saying is that regardless of the facts, you will still be held responsible even though you have been cleared for any legal or personal responsibility. 

The real question is just why has King County and the City of Seattle taken this position?  Isn't this a case of "double jeopardy" where you can't win despite all redemptive evidence?   As soon as I receive some answers I will relay them.  What profoundly troubles me is that many of these new immigrant taxi drivers come from countries with horrible human rights records, and are now innocently expecting they will be treated better now that they are in the USA.  If only that were true is all I can say.  I wish it were true but current stories, like ones from from NYC's Rikers Island says otherwise, shouting out  a municipal failure prevalent across these 50 democratic United States.  We can do better is all I can end with.

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