Notes on Kamp: The Illusion of Safety
Prop 1 is terrible, but the regulations it seeks to overturn need work
At this point, I'm genuinely clueless as to how this weekend's election will go, but I'm absolutely sure of one thing: It's been a sad waste of time and money. Both Michael King and Nick Barbaro discuss this week just how much money's been spent convincing voters to be "for" Prop 1, so I won't revisit those details. But it's been hard to watch so many resources that might have gone to something useful instead squandered in an effort to intimidate lawmakers trying to do their jobs.
If you don't like government regulation and think rich people should be able to do what they want, you should definitely vote for Prop 1. I'm not sure that's worked out too well in the past, both distant and near, but we can agree to disagree.
Whether government should be able to regulate industry is the real question here, though that's not necessarily how the issue gets framed. One of the (very) many mailers I've received claims that "safety is critical" to Uber and Lyft, and that's why they screen their drivers for "sex offenses and terrorism."
I would like to be completely frank and say that while I don't believe any claims that Ridesharing Works for Austin makes, even if Uber and Lyft are making sure that no one who's been convicted of certain offenses is allowed to drive for them, it does nothing to convince me that their drivers are safe or qualified.
One of the great ironies of this election is that the regulations that Uber and Lyft seek to overturn are not great. I don't think they're unnecessarily burdensome; I don't think they should be overturned, but I wish they were different and better, as I've mentioned before (see "Notes on Kamp: Everybody Loses," April 8). Of course, if Prop 1 passes, City Council will be foreclosed from going back and actually writing different, better regulations. But if it fails, Council will have that opportunity, and should take advantage of it.
The staunchest defenders of the regulations – especially Council Member Ann Kitchen – are to be commended for sticking to their guns. I have no doubt that their intentions are to make sure that Austin riders are safe. The attacks that Kitchen has faced for having the temerity to do her job are deplorable, and I admire her fortitude. I commend Council's recent efforts, as well, to make sure that the regulations, should they survive the election, aren't overly harsh in whom they ban from driving. And I think it's perfectly reasonable to require that drivers prove that they are who they say they are by providing fingerprints.
However, I feel compelled to reiterate my opposition to the idea both sides of the Prop 1 debate seemingly take for granted: that the best predictor of whether someone's fit to do a job is whether they have a certain type of criminal history.
I suspect I spend just as much time worrying about my personal safety as the next person. I know just how common it is to be harassed for the simple offense of being female in public. I don't believe that keeping people who have served their time from employment is going to make me safer. I don't believe that my safety in the back of a stranger's car turns on whether he's been convicted of any crime, no matter how unsavory.
I find it to be intensely hypocritical that progressives will in general counsel more humane criminal justice policies but then will act as though people convicted of sex crimes should be forever cast out. (Which is not to say that the right is less invested in fear-mongering when it comes to sexual assault; for a salient example, see the onslaught of "bathroom bills.")
We need to take sexual assault and harassment seriously. However, sexual assault cannot be prevented by fear-mongering, any more than it can be prevented by victim-blaming. I'm hoping that Prop 1 gets shot down. I don't like the precedent it sets, and I don't like to see our democratically elected lawmakers bullied. But I'm also hoping that we can move on and have a rational discussion about what types of regulations will actually protect riders and drivers, and what types of regulations offer an illusion of safety based in stereotype.