[Editor's Note: John Curley is one of our best and most respected bloggers, however his original story didn't include important details that give a more complete perspective of law enforcement onsite. The Burning Blog editorial staff will always reserve the right to expand a story to provide a deeper understanding. We have made these edits with John's permission.]
The Man is not the only Man who arrived on the playa yesterday.
The other arrival we’re talking about is that other Man, the police, aka law enforcement officials, who have joined us in town and made their presence clear.
At least two people onsite for setup were cited for peeing on the playa (which carries a $275 fine, plus the threat that the offense could, at the officer’s discretion, be elevated into an indecent exposure rap, which would make you a sex offender and really make a mess of your record). Burning Man supports the event being all ages, and it’s important we keep that in mind even pre-event when it might look like there’s no one there to see you pee.
There were also citations for speeding, although the incidents reveal there seemed to be confusion about the current speed limit in Black Rock City. Burning Man staff (via the event stipulations) have agreed on a pre-event limit of 10 mph, but it’s possible the citations were given for exceeding 5 mph. In addition, art cars were being cited for not having valid current registrations. Organizers are working with BLM to clarify the enforceable speed limit, as pre-event rules are different from “show time”. There are also accommodations made for event vehicles and their registration status off-road. All incidents are being reviewed in Burning Man’s daily meetings with law enforcement officials.
There are new officers on site each year, and they have the jurisdiction to enforce the laws as they see fit. However, the organization works with the BLM year-round to give them a sense of our culture, and how things work during setup and then during the event itself.
Charlie Dolman, Burning Man’s new Director of Event Operations reminded the DPW at a recent morning meeting that the organization is set up to “have your back”, but that doesn’t mean if you’re actually in violation of the law. Anyone who is issued a citation they are uncertain about is encouraged to bring it and your questions to the organization or the BLM sub-station in Center Camp. The Burning Man staff works throughout the year to create a collaborative working relationship with law enforcement, and to help with that, participants are encouraged to report both positive and negative interactions with law enforcement by filling out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form at Ranger HQ.
But it’s clear that law enforcement wants you to know that they are here, and they are enforcing laws strictly. Drivers are being told to have a driver’s license on them at all times (this shouldn’t come as any surprise). Though there haven’t been any DUI citations it’s obvious those will happen if there’s anyone driving under the influence. So, the message is, handle yourself well, but be prepared to be pulled over for infractions that draw attention.
As evidence of what happens when your infraction is more than obvious, BLM pulled over the “Gypsy Queen” mutant vehicle for an obstructed license plate as she entered Black Rock City. A K-9 unit was used to sniff the accompanying van, and the when the dog got a “hit,” officers searched both vehicles.
However, all ended well. “They got a hit on a drill handle,” the owner said. “I told them that it was used by a bunch of people.” Although he was very obviously unhappy with the search, he said that the officers had been “cool.” And, there was nothing out of alignment except the obstructed plate.
The Burning Man organization works year round to maintain a strong working relationship with law enforcement. They have a right to be here and there is no way we could do the event without them and the important work they do to maintain order and enforce state, local and federal laws. There aren’t any laws that can be ignored.
So, do your part and obey the law. Each year we hear stories of how someone was pulled over and the ensuing painful experience. Most of the time the initial infraction was a tail light out, seat belt not used, speeding, riding on the top of a vehicle. Be safe, use common sense and follow the rules of the road — just as you would in any other city.
And, if your experience needs to be reviewed by the organization for our daily meetings with BLM please come to the Ranger station in Center Camp and fill out a LE Feedback form. We can’t advocate for your situation — nor can we explain to you what laws you broke and why it’s enforceable — if we don’t have a conversation with you about it. Trusting internet hype that there’s a strong police presence, and not being cognizant of all the variables is irresponsible. Be Self Reliant.
BE SAFE, BE SMART.
[Note: It was erroneously reported on Boing Boing that BRC won a lawsuit against BLM this year and that BLM may be retaliating by writing more citations in Black Rock City. For the record, BRC was not in a lawsuit with BLM this year. There is an ongoing lawsuit with Pershing County. More information about that can be found at www.brcvpc.com. The information about retaliation is unfounded.]