23 August 2014

A Fact of Ferguson that is Finally Getting Mainstream Notice

The fact that more than 20% of the budget of the town of Ferguson comes from tickets and warrants issued by police shows that the police are not there to protect the populace, they are there to extract tribute from them:
Scratch any social crisis, and you're likely to find economics not far below the surface. Via ArchCity Defenders, a St. Louis legal-aid nonprofit, we can see how this has worked to create the dismaying spectacle of the breakdown of justice in Ferguson. (H/t Alex Tabarrok, via Kevin Drum.)

According to the group's recent report on the municipal court system in St. Louis County, the Ferguson court is a "chronic offender" in legal and economic harassment of its residents. There's not much of a secret why: the municipality collects some $2.6 million a year in fines and court fees, typically from small-scale infractions like traffic violations. This is the second-largest source of income for that small, fiscally-strapped municipality.


For a low-income community--and for a black community subjected to the racial profiling, as the report documents--these fines can gather force like a boulder rolling downhill. 

Tabarrok points to the report's observation that the Ferguson court processed the equivalent of three warrants and $312 in fines per household in 2013.

"You don't get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate," he notes. "You get numbers like this from [B.S.] arrests for jaywalking" and what the report calls "low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay without a meaningful inquiry into whether an individual has the means to pay."
The reason that the minorities in Ferguson do not see the police as their defenders and their protectors, it's because they aren't.

This arrangement, where peace officers have as their primary function tax collections, is fundamentally pathological and corrupt, and it needs to stop.


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