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FROM ROUGH ROADS TO RAILROADS: Reading the abundance of signs everywhere

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We militarized Sheriff Andy and Deputy Barney and consented to give them almost unlimited discretionary powers. These days, ‘probable cause’ can mean a hair out of place. Almost anyone can get stopped for almost any reason.

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“Rough Road!” reads the sign on River Road near the construction zone. Which rough road?

Maybe the sign refers to the rough road of any person of color at any point in our legal system, especially at unwarranted discretionary traffic stops.

The high-profile discretionary street violence from law enforcement over the past year is in part one of the unintended side effects of the “War on Drugs” that St. Ronnie initiated back in the early ‘80s. Between Ronnie’s almost totally misdirected War on Drugs and our eternal War on Terror, courts have weakened laws limiting police powers at every turn. We don’t just ask local police to respond to criminal complaints, investigate murders and provide a comforting presence in public places. We demand they keep order in our schools, keep us sober on our highways, and use their police ESP and hi-tech surveillance gadgets to aggressively prevent all crimes—from jaywalking to international terrorist plots.

We militarized Sheriff Andy and Deputy Barney and consented to give them almost unlimited discretionary powers. These days, ‘probable cause’ can mean a hair out of place. Almost anyone can get stopped for almost any reason.

Most folks who look like me haven’t noticed the expansion of police discretionary powers and job description over the past 35 years. Partly because a lot of Americans have become obsessed with safety, and confuse “law and order” with “justice.” Partly because people who look like me are white. I can break bad, cook crystal meth, sell sub-prime mortgages, and even wear a hoodie, and not risk getting stopped in any neighborhood by local or campus police. It’s a much rougher road for persons of color.

Maybe the sign referenced our rough road to relative nuclear stability and a nuke deal with Iran? August 9 is the 70th anniversary of the last time anyone used a nuclear weapon against people. It wasn’t Iran that dropped the big one; it was us—our American exceptionalism, superior moral judgement and firepower. The proposed deal with Iran buys another 15 years of global oversight of their enriched uranium program. It’s not like we trust Iran enough to help them build an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction like we did with Iraq back in the ‘80s. Having a deal means you can renegotiate a better deal. Ask Donald. It’s not rocket science. It’s an art form, right?   

Or maybe the sign referred to the rough road the POTUS has had getting to his 54th birthday on August 4. Despite the fact that economic inequality continues to destroy democracy, his administration has presided over an economic recovery from what some considered the worst crisis since the Great Depression. His administration could literally put a chicken in every pot and a roof over every head, and the right would complain the dessert wasn’t sweet enough, while the left notes the kale wasn’t fresh enough.

Maybe the sign referred to the rough road of mass transit in our American car culture. I’m sure our road-building project will help get us from here to there a little more quickly. But, as I drove alone in my car, my aging eyes burning after a long day, hydrocarbons hastening the end of untold species, I sighed and imagined the construction completed a mass transit line that linked Raleigh to Wrightsville Beach, with spurs shooting from the airport to Carolina Beach, whisking me home from work with a few friends and co-workers. 

And I’m no Andy Wood, but during my Sunday-morning River Road runs, I observe the migratory patterns of our local wildlife from turtles to tourists. This time of year flocks of tourists fly down River Road on Friday nights to mate on aptly named Pleasure Island. After their mating rituals, they throw panties and hundreds of empty beer cans along River Road.

A rail line might just cut down on damage to the ecosystem, and give local police a new public place to provide their comforting presence.

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