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The Crazy Money Incentive Which Led to Ferguson

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Washington’s Blog
August 22, 2014

We recently noted that the terrible handling of the economic crisis was one of the underlying causes of the conflict in Ferguson, Missouri.

We pointed out in 2010 that African-Americans have fared much worse  than whites since the 2008 economic crisis:

34.5% of young African American men were unemployed in October 2009.

***

No wonder Chris Tilly – director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA – says that African-Americans and high school dropouts are experiencingdepression-level unemployment.

It hasn’t gotten much better … black unemployment is still more than double that of whites.

But there’s also a specific reason that blacks have it so bad in Ferguson.

Jeff Smith – a former Missouri state senator, and now a New School professor of urban policy – explains in the New York Times:

Back in 1876, the city of St. Louis made a fateful decision. Tired of providing services to the outlying areas, the city cordoned itself off, separating from St. Louis County.

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St. Louis County contains 90 municipalities, most with their own city hall and police force. Many rely on revenue generated from traffic tickets and related fines. According to a study by the St. Louis nonprofit Better TogetherFerguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees; for some surrounding towns it approaches 50 percent.

Municipal reliance on revenue generated from traffic stops adds pressure to make more of them. One town, Sycamore Hills, has stationed a radar-gun-wielding police officer on its 250-foot northbound stretch of Interstate.

With primarily white police forces that rely disproportionately on traffic citation revenue, blacks are pulled over, cited and arrested in numbers far exceeding their population share, according to a recent report from Missouri’s attorney general. In Ferguson last year, 86 percent of stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests were of black people — despite the fact that police officers were far less likely to find contraband on black drivers (22 percent versus 34 percent of whites). This worsens inequality, as struggling blacks do more to fund local government than relatively affluent whites.

***

When the state patrol and the national television cameras leave Ferguson, its residents will still be talking about how they can move forward. And they may be ready to expand the conversation so that it’s not just about black and white, but green.

Similarly, Canadian-American economist Alex Tabarrok reports:

new report from Arch City Defenders, a non-profit legal defense organization, shows that the Ferguson municipal courts are a stunning example of these problems:

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.

You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant “low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.”

If you have money, for example, you can easily get a speeding ticket converted to a non-moving violation. But if you don’t have money it’s often the start of a downward spiral that is hard to pull out of….If you are arrested and jailed you will probably lose your job and perhaps also your apartment—all because of a speeding ticket.

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Of course, if you are arrested and jailed you will probably lose your job and perhaps also your apartment–all because of a speeding ticket.

As a final outrage, consider this story which ties together Ferguson, the courts, and the arrest of parents, often minority parents, for leaving their kids to play in parks (just as my parents did).

According to local judge Frank Vatterott, 37% of the courts responding to his survey unconstitutionally closed the courts to non-defendants. Defendants are then faced with the choice of leaving their kids on the parking lot or going into court. As Antonio Morgan described after being denied entry to the court with his children, the decision to leave his kids with a friend resulted in a charge of child endangerment.

No wonder Ferguson was a powder keg waiting to blow up …

Postscript: There are runaway levels of inequality economically and in access to liberty and justice.

There are two systems of justice in America … one for the big banks and other fatcats, and one for everyone else.  Holding the little guy to the letter of the law – while letting the fatcats run around immune to the law - is creating a powder keg nationally.

This article was posted: Friday, August 22, 2014 at 11:09 am





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