A Lesson from Ferguson: Our Criminal Justice is Broken

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.

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17 thoughts on “A Lesson from Ferguson: Our Criminal Justice is Broken

  1. Harley August 23, 2014 / 8:47 am

    You are so right in what you say here. It’s not just in Ferfuson, but all over to one degree or another. We are over lawed and the justice system in too many cases is just a money making operation. That is criminal. Regardless if the police officer is guilty or not, he is already assumed guilty even by the governor of that state. That is criminal too.

    • Amazona August 23, 2014 / 11:21 am

      I hope this governor gets his just rewards for his blatant pandering to the mob.

      “Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon drew criticism from his own Lt. Governor Tuesday when he said “a vigorous prosecution must now be pursued” in the shooting death of black 18-year-old Michael Brown by white police Officer Darren Wilson in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.

      Nixon made the comment in a videotaped statement in which he said he would not remove St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch from the case despite the demands of some black leaders who believe that McCulloch’s deep family ties to law enforcement would affect his impartiality. McCullouch’s father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for the St. Louis Police Department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.

      In his statement, Nixon cited what he called the “well-established process” by which prosecutors can recuse themselves from pending investigations to make way for a special prosecutor. Departing from that process, Nixon said in a statement, “could unnecessarily inject legal uncertainty into this matter and potentially jeopardize the prosecution.”

      “We have a responsibility,” Nixon said, “to come together, and do everything we can to achieve justice for [Brown’s] family.” Nixon added that McCulloch and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had an obligation “to achieve justice in the shooting death of Michael Brown must be carried out thoroughly, promptly, and correctly.””

      http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/08/20/missouri-gov-calls-for-vigorous-prosecution-ferguson-shooting-case/

      This is not just about “justice for Brown’s family”. It is about justice for the officer in question. It is about justice for society.

      I am willing to consider the possibility that the governor merely misspoke, that he was clumsy and imprecise when he implied that “prosecution” would apply only to the officer. Given the blatant pandering to the mob, and his decision to put the head of the State Patrol in charge, whose race baiting was so blatant he appeared to have graduated from the Al Sharpton School of Race Pimping, the overall impression given by the top officials in the state was pretty despicable.

  2. Amazona August 23, 2014 / 10:31 am

    The system absolutely needs revamping, and I do not mean slapping a legislative bandaid on top of the stack of previous legislative bandaids that have now created a situation in which we break some law every day without even knowing it.

    Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate calls his new book “Three Felonies a Day,”
    (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704471504574438900830760842) —emphasis mine

    “Mr. Silverglate, a liberal who wrote a previous book taking the conservative position against political correctness on campuses, is a persistent, principled critic of overbroad statutes. This is a common problem in securities laws, which Congress leaves intentionally vague, encouraging regulators and prosecutors to try people even when the law is unclear. He reminds us of the long prosecution of Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone, which after five years resulted in a reversal of his criminal conviction on vague charges of obstruction of justice.

    These miscarriages are avoidable. Under the English common law we inherited, a crime requires intent. This protection is disappearing in the U.S. As Mr. Silverglate writes, “Since the New Deal era, Congress has delegated to various administrative agencies the task of writing the regulations,” even as “Congress has demonstrated a growing dysfunction in crafting legislation that can in fact be understood.” Prosecutors identify defendants to go after instead of finding a law that was broken and figuring out who did it. Expect more such prosecutions as Washington adds regulations.

    I have contended for quite some time that an appealing and effective campaign would be the promise to revisit laws, examine them, and instead of trying to amend or correct them simply replacing them with simple, easy to understand, relevant laws—MADE BY A LEGISLATIVE BODY, not an agency.

  3. Amazona August 23, 2014 / 11:10 am

    “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..”

    Actually, I think the reason for approaching him is pretty well established. He and his friend were walking in the middle of the road. (One account after that is that when the officer started to get out of his car, Brown shoved him back in, leaned in, and started beating him. Another is that the door bounced off Brown and his friend when the officer swung it open and it hit the officer on the rebound, enraging him so that he tried to drag Brown into the car. I think the second version, coming from Brown’s friend, is pretty silly—-no one, especially a police officer with a gun on his belt, is going to try to drag a very large man into his car on top of him. There is no way I can imagine a trained law enforcement officer purposely putting himself at such a disadvantage to do something that would only have a negative outcome: OK, you drag him into the car—then what?)

    I think that in this case, speculating that the original contact was based on revenue enhancement is not justified. Two young men on foot in the middle of traffic are going to attract the attention of a cop, even if they are white, wearing letter jackets, and look like the pride of the local high school. Having said that, I think many traffic stops are motivated by a quota system for police, no matter how much this is denied. At the risk of stirring up the seething and always-close-to-the-surface rage of one of our lurker trolls, I don’t have a link and don’t plan to take the time to find one, but I remember reading a report showing, in a graph, a spike in traffic stops near the ends of months, when quota pressures would be highest.

    • M. Noonan August 23, 2014 / 3:19 pm

      I’d have to see a time line of the whole thing – to be sure, I’d expect that someone who is walking in a continuous straight line down the middle of the street would call attention to himself, but it is unclear if this was the case or if Brown was just jay walking…now, I’d be ok with a jay walking ticket if the jay walking was actually causing safety problems…but someone just going across the streets outside the sidewalks is a trivial matter and not worthy of a police officers attention. Police do set up patrols to generate revenue – I’ve seen it; I’m sure you have, too…like the officer at one point on the freeway signalling officers further down about cars speeding the fastest (I’ve seen as many as three people pulled over in this situation in a mile long stretch of road). There’s also the sad fact that in California, for instance, the beat up old truck driven by a likely illegal won’t get pulled over no matter how fast he’s going…and also no matter that he isn’t licensed, his vehicle isn’t registered and he doesn’t have insurance. But the owner of the new BMW will get pulled over. Why? Because the owner of the BMW will pay the ticket, the owner of the beater either cannot or will not pay.

      Ferguson has become a stain upon our national honor – not because of the shooting and not actually because of the riots, but because no one involved in the events is thinking. Everyone is reactive and/or trying to wring political/economic advantage out of it. For me, if this even can eventually lead to reform of police and justice, then we will have recovered our honor. I’m not saying I’m 100% right here – but I think I am on to something.

      • Amazona August 24, 2014 / 2:58 pm

        I just don’t see Ferguson as “…a stain upon our national honor ..” I see it as a stain on a culture which was created for the most part by Liberal policies, fostered and nurtured by Liberal policies, and encouraged by callous ideologues willing to sacrifice as much as necessary of a race to further its own ends. I also see it incumbent upon those within this culture to change it. It can’t be changed from the outside in. We (the nation) have tried, and run into speed bumps and road blocks, as so many within this culture have withdrawn into it and in so doing generated a subculture which simply cannot succeed in today’s America.

        I don’t know where it COULD succeed. When speaking well, being educated, striving for improvement and success, are condemned within a culture, it is self-limiting. We can say to young people in this culture “We will give you a pathway out, a chance to get a good education, to get job skills, a way to learn how to function in society in a way that will let you move forward and make good lives for yourselves” but if this is met with determination to try to carry over the elements of the culture that limit it, such as speech patterns, dress, mannerisms and/or racial hatred, it’s just a waste of time.

        Oh, it’s a mess there. I saw another video of another shooting of another young black man, in either KC or Saint Louis, and from the video it looked inexcusable. He was approaching police in what appeared to be a nonthreatening manner, hands held out in front of him at waist height, moving slowly. The police not only fired on him from a distance, but for some time had their weapons trained on him with bystanders in the line of fire behind him.

        There is definitely a mentality there that needs to be examined, but with an objective perspective willing to assess blame to anyone responsible. From a distance, it seems to be pretty well distributed between paranoid cops and a significant demographic in the black community (young men) perceived as a threat to the police. But this is in no way “…a stain upon our national honor ..” as much as the race pimps and Complicit Agenda Media and callous manipulative Left try to make it one.

      • Cluster August 24, 2014 / 7:05 pm

        I see it as a stain on a culture which was created for the most part by Liberal policies, fostered and nurtured by Liberal policies, and encouraged by callous ideologues willing to sacrifice as much as necessary of a race to further its own ends.

        That’s it in a nutshell. I saw some stats where the number of black males shot by police are miniscule when compared to the number of overall arrests, and the number of black males shot by other black males. This shooting just happened to fit perfectly with a populist liberal narrative.

        O also saw one of the black female protestors holding a sign that read – “freedom now”. Are they not free now??

      • Amazona August 24, 2014 / 6:05 pm

        Regarding the idea that breaking some laws is a “trivial matter” my position is consistent—change a law that is not right, but don’t just ignore it. As for pulling over speeders, I’m in favor of it. True, there are sneaky speed traps, such as hills where people tend to pick up speed without intending to and often not realizing it, long straightaways in remote areas, etc. But as one who has driven, sometimes four round trips a day, on a state highway on which people routinely speed and crash, and/or find themselves in situations like passing on a curve only to encounter oncoming traffic, as well as on a mountain interstate where trucks routinely break the speed limit and go out of control, burn out brakes and so on, I applaud ticketing for speeding. I have narrowly avoided crashes due to speeding drivers, and while I haven’t liked being ticketed myself, and have had a couple of situations which I knew were unfair, overall I have no problem with going after speeding drivers.

        As for things like being in the middle of the road, this is uncommon and irrational behavior, and anyone schooled in situational awareness is trained to spot and identify uncommon and irrational behavior. I know I would report someone walking down the middle of the road. It might just be high spirits, it might be intoxication, it might be any of several things (a few weeks ago a man was in traffic on a Colorado interstate trying to flag down cars because he was running from the police) but it should be looked into, if only by a couple of questions to let the people in question know they are being observed. There was never any indication that Wilson threatened to arrest or ticket Brown, or that he intended to do any more than say “What are you guys doing here? Get out of the road!” I think that is what most cops would do. There is no benefit to turning a minor infraction into a big thing, but a lot of benefit in being a presence, in getting people out of unsafe situations (such as being in the middle of a road) and in reminding people that there are cops there to deal with lawbreaking. It’s like a version of Guiliani’s concept of broken windows—when windows stay broken the message is that no one cares, so anything goes. When cops ignore people walking in the middle of the road, it sends the same message. You don’t have to arrest them, but you should remind them they aren’t supposed to do it, and it would be a good idea to find out why they are doing what they are doing. It could be goofing off, pranking, being silly, or it could be more sinister. A good cop will ask.

        Of course, if the intent to just say “What are you guys doing here? Get out of the road!” runs headlong into guys being on their way from robbing a store and assaulting the clerk, you have a cop on one side who might intend to issue a mild rebuke and guys on the other hand pumped up after a successful robbery and afraid of being busted for it.

      • Amazona August 24, 2014 / 8:21 pm

        “Are they not free now??”

        No. They had freedom, but they sold it back to the Left, preferring to go back onto the plantation where they are given a subsistence living and treated like cattle, being bred and fed to produce votes.

        And they hatehateHATE those who have walked away, who have chosen to not create new prisons but who have embraced freedom and thrived, because they are a constant reminder of their own weaknesses. They desperately need to believe that black people simply cannot make it in a white man’s world, and the sight of so many who have is an ongoing reproach, proof that they could if they had the backbone to try.

  4. Cluster August 24, 2014 / 7:17 pm

    Liberalism is a disease. A cancer. And we need to be just as diligent in wiping it out, as we do the jihadists. This is what we are up against:

    “You could probably make a compelling case that corn syrup is more deadly to Americans than all the terrorists who ever lived.”

    And this is an “educated” liberal. A smart one. Liberals just have zero common sense, zero self awareness, no grasp of reality, no economic sense, and are absolutely blind to anything outside of their own deluded orbit.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/08/24/1323764/-Stop-freaking-out-about-ISIS?detail=hide

    • Amazona August 24, 2014 / 8:14 pm

      Keep in mind that Liberals believe they made a “compelling case” for electing, and then reelecting, Obama, and for deciding that the next president should be a woman. They make cases all the time that they feel are “compelling” and are not only oblivious to their inanity and downright dumbness, they are smug about it.

      “Stop freaking out about ISIS” ties in with bloch’s explanation that the atrocities committed by Saddam and his sons shouldn’t have bothered us—–they were “half a world away”. It is also consistent with Clinton refusing to take custody of Bin Laden, twice, because he was fretting about how that would comply with the United States legal system, and after all, it wasn’t as if Bin Laden really posed much of a threat.

      • Cluster August 24, 2014 / 8:28 pm

        Or how about this administrations attempt to “reset” relations with Putin and Hillary’s continued insistence that it “went well”. Or Hillary and Pelosi calling Bashir Assad a “reformer”. Their ineptness, ignorance and willful delusion is mind boggling.

    • Amazona August 24, 2014 / 8:29 pm

      BTW, I read the article. Or tried to. It was like trying to navigate a mental sewer, dodging the rafts of excrement and hoping none of it would stick. EEEuuuwwww!! OK, I can see someone writing dreck like this. I can see someone sitting in his onesie cracking up over his self-defined witticisms. After all, we all know there are plenty of brain-dead losers out there, and they have to do something to entertain themselves.

      But PRINTING it? The idea that someone did wade through it and thought “We need to put this on our blog!”? THAT’S what is so creepy. The idea that anyone but this guy’s doting mommy finding this even remotely acceptable on any level is just downright appalling.

      • Cluster August 24, 2014 / 9:05 pm

        Or tried to. It was like trying to navigate a mental sewer, dodging the rafts of excrement and hoping none of it would stick.

        Yea I got through a couple of paragraphs and gave up. People like this author are the enemy within. They are too mind numbingly stupid to occupy space in an increasingly dangerous world.

    • M. Noonan August 24, 2014 / 10:07 pm

      Remember, liberal arguments fall into the following categories:

      1. That which justify assigning power and wealth to liberals.

      2. That which blame all ills on non-liberals.

      3. That which excuse liberals from having to act against genuine evil.

      The argument in your linked article is an example of “3”.

      • Cluster August 25, 2014 / 8:52 am

        There’s a big star studded event tonight, and no it’s not the Emmy’s. It’s the funeral of Michael Brown. The 18 yr old, 230 pound man who was guilty of misdemeanor petty theft and felony assault of a police officer who unfortunately died in the altercation. Do you suppose this will start a trend of Obama Admin officials, civil rights agitators and hollywood celebrities attending funerals of young black males? I am thinking it would be a good thing if they actually did. But unfortunately, there is not a manufactured populist agenda to serve at the other funerals.

      • M. Noonan August 25, 2014 / 12:01 pm

        Nope – and, of course, if they really started attending the funerals of even one in a hundred of the young, black men killed each year then it’d really cut into Obama’s golf time…

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