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Car Culture

Open Season on Parking Spots, and Parking Agents

Which excuse is this guy using?

The Daily News today has the sickening story of an off-duty NYPD officer beating an NYPD traffic agent for ticketing his girlfriend's illegally parked car in the Bronx. The capper: the agent was reportedly cuffed and taken to the precinct, while the cop he says assaulted him has not been charged with a felony, though the state just adopted a law stiffening penalties for attacks on traffic agents.

"If the NYPD doesn't show respect to us, what will happen with regular civilians?" said Traffic Agent Eric Celemi.

Celemi, 29, says Officer Eladro Mata beat him bloody last month after he ticketed the double-parked car in the Bronx.

Mata has been stripped of his badge and gun, but not charged with a felony, despite a law signed last month by Gov. Paterson that makes assaulting a traffic cop a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Celemi contends he was not only beaten, but then hauled off to the 48th Precinct stationhouse in handcuffs for following his traffic supervisor's order to remain at the scene and wait for an ambulance.

Shocked and bleeding from the ear, Celemi was jeered by the crowd as an NYPD lieutenant ordered him cuffed.

"I had been writing tickets and people standing on the street were applauding when I got arrested," Celemi said.

"I always try to treat people in a nice way but I understand people don't like traffic agents. I knew that before I got the job and I learned it even more now."

Not that this is news to Streetsbloggers, but the emotional intensity that seems to be part and parcel of car ownership is as frightening as it is mind-boggling. (Full disclosure: recovering auto addict here.) Officer Celemi's story -- particularly the part about onlookers cheering as he was led away -- brought to mind the "Parking Wars" reality show, a chronicle of the incessant abuse parking agents take at the hands of self-righteous motorists. But it also reminded me of the reaction to the suspension of alternate side parking in Park Slope: not only the near-orgasmic response from drivers, but the portrayal by the media (the Times in particular) of the city's free parking culture as a charming New York quirk, rather than a toxic, destructive, borderline diagnosable obsession.

Of course, in the case of Officer Mata, what can we expect at the precinct level when the air of entitlement wafts down from above. In 2004, NYPD Transportation Department Chief Michael Scagnelli had an agent suspended for ticketing his unmarked SUV. At least she wasn't beaten and arrested, too.

Photo: Too Many Notes/Flickr

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