This is just astounding:
Ferguson is a city located in northern St. Louis County with 21,203 residents living in 8,192 households. The majority (67%) of residents are African-American…22% of residents live below the poverty level.
…Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of $2,635,400. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.
Was Brown stopped just so the police could write a revenue-generating ticket? That is something we need to determine as the investigation goes on – regardless of how the shooting is ruled or what happens to the police officer.
It has been growing on me for years now that we are massively over-law’d in the United States. There are too many laws, too many fines – and the police and prosecutors have too much discretion in deciding whom will enter the meat grinder of our criminal justice system. Of course, as long as you have money, you’re going to be ok – OJ Simpson, after all, got away with double murder because he had the scratch to hire an all-star defense team. But for some poor body in the inner city who gets pulled over for a traffic violation or gets picked up for minor drug possession? Forget it: he’s screwed…and once the criminal justice system gets hold of him, it won’t let him go. Remember, if you don’t appear in court (and maybe you don’t because you have a job you can’t get out of – or have children you can’t find a sitter for and the judge won’t let you bring them into court), you get a warrant for your arrest…and if arrested, you’ll get more fines on top of the original fine. And if you can’t pay, then you just get in more trouble.
Things like this really make me wonder – do murders go unsolved because there’s no revenue upside for the city? Are high crime areas ill policed because the cops are out writing tickets? Last time I got a ticket (figured that STOP meant Short Tap On Pedal) the officer was about 20 minutes writing me up. Twenty minutes he wasn’t out patrolling the streets. He writes 10 tickets per shift and how much time does that leave for the actual job of the police? Additionally – when we hear someone has a criminal record, does that mean he’s a murderer, or just someone who got busted for pot?
We really need to rethink this – most importantly, the fact that the revenues from fines goes to the municipality which issued the ticket. There’s just too much incentive for cash-strapped cities and counties to see fines as a means to revenue rather than a tool for law enforcement. Maybe make fewer fines and more community service, instead? I don’t know, but we need to think about this – and I think we might have a situation where the poor, especially the urban poor, are caught in a bind.