This was the headline of a recent opinion letter printed in The Washington Post: “Welcome, baseball fan. Go directly to jail.”
In it, Joe Carr writes about how he came to Washington, DC from Minnesota to attend a baseball game, was arrested for scalping tickets, and went to jail. Mr. Carr feels his arrest was unwarranted because there are crimes such as “murder, drugs and prostitution” for the police to go after, and while that’s a valid point, saying “Hey, aren’t there some murderers you can be chasing down?” when you’ve been, say, pulled over for running a red-light, or arrested for smashing a window, isn’t going to get you out of a speeding ticket or a visit to lockup.
Mr. Carr doesn’t quite seem to understand why his actions warranted an arrest. Well, that’s easy: it’s illegal. But in this article from NBC-4, many scalpers aren’t reselling actual tickets, but are selling counterfeit tickets – in the instance mentioned in the NBC-4 article, $500 for two Justin Bieber tickets that turned out to be counterfeit. The article, from February 2013, identifies some interesting statistics: MPD made at least 25 arrests for scalping last year. Anyone who is caught buying or selling tickets on D.C. streets can be fined $300 and face possible jail time. This article, and this instance, were presumably one of the factors which led to increased enforcement on the night Mr. Carr came to DC for a Nationals game.
Mr. Carr claims not to have known scalping tickets was a crime. I’m not quite sure where scalping is not a crime (a long pop-culture history of TV shows brings to mind many episodes where many a protagonist tries to scalp a ticket and learns a valuable lesson and gets to wear some fancy chained jewelry), but had he simply Googled “Washington DC Scalping” he would have found a considerable number of articles indicating that the behavior carried with it “harsh penalties” including for those who were “selling at face value.” (That from the third search result from the top – the very top was the NBC article linked above).
Mr. Carr makes a very good point, however: “But what purpose was served by my arrest? It didn’t make any financial sense. I am certain that the costs of my arrest, transport and processing had to be many multiples of the $50 I paid. Does the District have a massive budget surplus it needs to spend down?” Indeed, why ARE the tax-dollars of DC taxpayers being used to subsidize Mr. Carr’s transportation to jail?
Instead of lambasting Washington, DC’s police department for enforcing Washington, DC’s laws, perhaps Mr. Carr should learn how to use Google. Developing a sense of shame would be a good start, too.