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Masked men protest Marysville red-light cameras
Who were those masked men in Marysville?
Two sign holders sporting pointy-bearded Guy Fawkes masks standing in the median of 10th and G streets Monday had little to say about their identities, but many more words for the target of their protest — the red-light cameras atop a pole behind them.
"SCAM CAM!" blared one man's sign as hundreds of drivers streamed by, an arrow pointing up to the white camera box that triggers $300-plus fines to the unwary. "They Aren't Tickets," claimed the sign wielded by the other protester.
The cameras have snagged hundreds of drivers since their installation starting five years ago, at numerous Marysville and Yuba City crossings. But the masked men's battle was less about the size of the resulting fines than about their links to a Phoenix contractor of traffic camera systems — what the men called an unholy alliance with cities.
"It's a means of getting them to waive their Fifth Amendment rights, and incriminate yourself and others," said the hooded, slightly squat man holding the "Scam Cam" board — voluble where his partner was mostly silent in a Penn-and-Teller-like dynamic.
"It's easy to complain, but people need to take the next step and do something," he continued, describing himself and his friend as part-time sign-holding gadflies whose recent exploits also have included holding signs directing drivers to turn away from local drunken-driving checkpoints earlier this month. The object of the protesters' scorn is the partnership between cities and Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., installer of the cameras. Tickets mailed to offenders showing pictures of their illegal red-light crossings are marked "notices" rather than citations and thus have no legal weight — unless drivers fearing the fines mail back the tickets and "confess" to the alleged violations, the protesters claimed.
"It's a scam the government is getting a cut of," said the "Scam Cam" sign holder. "A company is saying, 'I'll go around handing out tickets they'll pay me and you'll get a cut,' and the government says, 'OK.' I guarantee you, I would be arrested for mail fraud if I tried that. It's a trick."
Just before 5 p.m., less than halfway through the disguised duo's planned two-hour protest, two Marysville policemen pulled up by the median. Readying themselves in case of an incident, the protesters held out their camera phones, which were feeding live video to a Facebook page.
But there was no confrontation — only a brief lesson by the officers about traffic safety law (they pointed to Vehicle Code 21954 (a) in a battered handbook, requiring pedestrians to yield to vehicles except at crosswalks), and a request that the sign-holders move their political statement onto the sidewalk instead.
"I was just explaining how they could do it the right way, so they could do it legally the next time," Cpl. Chris Miller said amiably, a few minutes after shaking hands with the disguised ones.
What the two protesters thought of their meeting with authority could not be known. Even before the officers drove away, almost as quickly as the mask-wearers had arrived at the street corner, they were already gone.
CONTACT ReporterHoward Yune at 749-4708.