How is it possible that Ferguson Police handed out 10,000 more arrest warrants in 2013 than Ferguson has people?
National Public Radio (NPR) sheds some light on a little-known source for the simmering racial tension that boiled over when Ferguson Police executed Michael Brown, and then disgracefully exploited the media to put him on trial for his own murder: Arrest warrants for mostly non-violent, traffic-related offenses.
To understand some of the distrust of police that has fueled protests in Ferguson, Mo., consider this: In 2013, the municipal court in Ferguson — a city of 21,135 people — issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations.
Yikes! as weinenkel from Daily Kos so aptly points out, that’s 1.5 arrests per person!
These disturbing numbers come from a report by Arch City Defenders, a St. Louis non-profit that provides legal services to the homeless and working poor. For five years, they observed 60 municipal courts in the area as part of their court-watching program, and took sworn statements from defendants. They found that in Ferguson and two other communities, citizens are denied their legal and civil rights, and frequently jailed because they can’t pay their traffic tickets.
Clients reported being jailed for the inability to pay fines, losing jobs and housing as result of the incarceration, being refused access to the Courts if they were with their children or other family members, and being mistreated by the bailiffs, prosecutors, clerks and judges in the courts.
That’s right. Ferguson police hands out traffic tickets to the community’s 67 percent black population, and if they can’t afford to pay, they get thrown in jail. We all know that police stop black drivers more often than white drivers. In fact, KTRS reports that in Missouri, blacks are a full 66 percent more likely to be targeted for traffic stops.
This chart from Quartz shows the dramatic difference between how often black and white drivers get pulled over by Ferguson police. Although more of the white drivers turned out to have illegal contraband on their persons or vehicles, police stopped a whopping 4,632 black drivers and only 686 white drivers.
Ferguson’s dirty secret: Traffic stops increase racial tensions AND Ferguson’s revenue.
So, you’d think the city could solve a lot of their problems by simply telling Ferguson Police to cut back on the traffic stops. Alas, that would create a whole new set of problems. Thomas Harvey, founder of Arch City Defenders, unearthed Ferguson’s dirty secret: Court fines and fees for these mostly traffic-related offenses are the city’s second-largest source of revenue! In 2013, the city collected $20 million total in revenues, $2.6 million of which came from court fines and fees.
“Folks have the impression that this is a form of low-level harassment that isn’t about public safety. It’s about money.”
That’s right. Ferguson police not only treat the city’s mostly black population like crap, they also help the courts squeeze them for every possible dime they can get out of them. How disgusting.
NPR explains that traffic stops in Ferguson and across the nation disproportionately penalize the poor.
Just like around the U.S., these municipal court fines in Ferguson are for low-level offenses, usually traffic violations. Harvey calls these “poverty crimes.” Typically, he says, someone gets stopped for a rolling stop at a stop sign, or for a broken tail light. Then police find other problems.
Dealing with these fix-it tickets, plus fines and fees for lack of insurance, lack of registration, and other issues caused by the working poor people’s need to drive to jobs that don’t pay enough for them to properly maintain their vehicles, can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Yahoo! News reports on how traffic stops increase both racial tensions and revenues in Ferguson.