When a traffic light in South Pasadena went out during the morning rush hour, citizen Alan Ehrlich stepped into the breach and began directing traffic at the major intersection.
“I grabbed a bright orange shirt that I have and a couple of orange safety flags. I took it upon myself to help get motorists through that intersection faster,” said Ehrlich. Before he took action, traffic was backed up for more than a mile, as vehicles took more than a half hour to maneuver through the intersection.
“It was just kind of chaos of cars . . . there were stop signs up. But people were challenging each other to get through the intersection,” said a witness who works at an office nearby. He reported that Ehrlich’s stint as volunteer traffic cop had traffic flowing within ten minutes.
South Pasadena police then responded to the scene, ordered Ehrlich to stop, and issued him a ticket, but refused to direct traffic at the intersection themselves. South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Payne explained that he did not have the man power needed to staff officers when lights fail, and that Ehrlich should have just allowed traffic to back up.
This is government arrogance at its worst, incompetent and proud of it, completely antithetical to American values. The police do not respond and cannot respond to an emergency, so a responsible citizen, wholly out of noble motives and the desire to help his community, fills the vacuum created by the government employees’ failure to perform—and is punished for it. The message sent is that we should all be prepared to sit quietly and be victims in exigent situations until the government, from which all blessings and bounties flow, sees fit to come to our rescue.
My neighbor’s house is on fire, but the fire department isn’t responding. Never mind. Our duty is to wait, not to grab a garden hose.
A child is cornered by a vicious dog. Animal control has been called, but hasn’t arrived. Never mind. Our duty is to be bystanders, and not to try to divert the dog before he attacks.
A woman collapses on the sidewalk, the apparent victim of a heart attack. The rescue personnel on the scene inform us that they are on break, and have no obligation to do anything. Never mind. We should wait for them to finish their coffees, as the woman expires.
A plane is hijacked by terrorists. No air marshals are on the plane. Never mind. The passengers should allow the plane to be flown into the U.S. Capitol.
Alan Ehrlich deserves a commendation, not a ticket, for embodying the highest civic instincts and obligations of a member of his community. For government officials like Chief Joe Payne to try to undermine our culture and traditions of proactive citizen response, as well as the values of self-determination, autonomy, courage, sacrifice and responsibility, by his fatuous bureaucratic logic—better to have chaos than to have non-sanctioned and budgeted solutions—demonstrates the danger of depending on others, especially government, who insist that they must retain all the power to act even when they don’t use it, or exercise it incompetently.
I will be interested to see if the citizens of South Pasadena take up a collection to pay Alan Ehrlich’s ticket, as they should. After that, they can take up another collection to buy Chief Payne a one-way ticket out of town.