ArchCity Defenders, which has tracked ticketing of St. Louis area residents for five years and focused primarily on vehicle violations, started a court-watching program because so many of its clients complained of traffic prosecution wreaking havoc on their lives. Defendants routinely alleged that a racially-motivated traffic stop led to their being jailed due to inability to pay traffic fines, which in turn prompted people to “los[e] jobs and housing as a result of the incarceration.” In other words, defendants alleged that racial profiling, for traffic tickets, propelled them deeper and deeper into the cycle of poverty. The ArchCity report does not allege racial profiling; however, it is clear that many of the people stopped for traffic violations feel that they were targeted for their race.
Of the 60 courts St. Louis County municipal courts observed by ArchCity, 30 were accused of engaging in illegal or harmful practices. “Three courts, Bel-Ridge, Florissant, and Ferguson, were chronic offenders and serve as prime examples of how these practices violate fundamental rights of the poor, undermine public confidence in the judicial system, and create inefficiencies,” according to the report.
The paper points out that in Ferguson, 86 percent of vehicle stops “involved a black motorist, although blacks make up just 67 percent of the population.” In addition, blacks stopped in Ferguson “are almost twice as likely as whites to be searched (12.1 percent versus 6.9 percent) and twice as likely to be arrested (10.4 percent versus 5.2 percent)”. Searches of blacks only results in discovery of contraband 21.7 percent of the time, whereas contraband is recovered from their less frequently stopped white counterparts 34.0 percent of the time.
Municipalities’ seeming willingness to profit off of minorities has undoubtedly fueled the flames ignited by Brown’s shooting. One resident quoted in the study said, “It’s ridiculous how these small municipalities make their lifeline off the blood of the people who drive through the area.”
Twenty-two percent of Ferguson residents live below the poverty line, and 21.7 percent receive food stamps. The unemployment rate in the town is 14.3 percent, or more than double that of St. Louis County and Missouri as a whole.
“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,” according to the ArchCity Defenders report. And in 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases, “or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.”"
Victoria Bekiempis, "Driving While Black in Ferguson," Newsweek, August 14, 2014. I went looking for this because of the recent article in WaPo that mentions this statistic. I found a link to this piece, and to the original ArchCity Defenders report, thanks to this blogger on the DailyKos.
Fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue in the city. Here’s structural racism for you. This is why white people in Ferguson with beautiful old large houses have “I <3 Ferguson” signs on their lawns. (You know, the ones generated by the all-white PR firm the city hired recently?) Because they get great city services at the expense of their low-income neighbors, and, since the town is segregated, they don’t have to know anything about it.