Whenever things make absolutely no sense, I think it can be said that while it may make no sense to you, it may make sense to someone. And nine times out of ten, what has previously appeared nonsensical may be sensical, especially if someone somewhere is making money from the nonsense.
When the whole Michael Brown episode appeared out of nowhere, I am sure that I am not alone when I wondered, how is it remotely possible that a young man could end up dead for jaywalking? But perhaps part of the riddle has been solved by Newsweek, in an exemplary story displaying actual curiosity, investigation and journalism:
Driving While Black In Ferguson
Very simply, a town that bankrolls itself through racial profiling and harassment of minority citizens in penny ante driving violations which are then ratcheted up in both costs and ramifications through manipulative measures, is EXACTLY the kind of place where a jaywalking offense would spiral out of control. There really is something very systemically awful going on in that town and it is tragic that it took the death of black teenager to draw one's eyes to it.
Please follow below for the full, horrifying story.
In this exceptional article by Victoria Bekiempis she draws our attention to:
Arch City Defenders: Municipal Courts White Paper
in which we discover that
“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.”
Do you think that there is another city or town anywhere that averages 3 warrants per household? I have to wonder if there isn't some incentive or bonus or quota system in place to get the police to write that many tickets and arrest warrants.
Further we learn of a city which uses the oppression of it's poor minority population in a concentrated and what appears to be, conscious, effort to exploit them by issuing an alarming and disproportionate amount of tickets and warrants in the first place and then driving up the costs of these offense exponentially through such trickery as:
(Again from the Newsweek article citing the ArchCity Defenders report)
Exacerbating the problem, the report says, are "a number of operational procedures that make it even more difficult for defendants to navigate the courts." A Ferguson court employee reported, for example, that “the bench routinely starts hearing cases 30 minutes before the appointed time and then locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defend net arriving even slightly late to receive an additional charge for failure to appear.”
This is beyond horrible. On the heinous scale it is right at the top along with the judges in Pennsylvania who sent juveniles off to private for profit prisons in order to earn kickbacks.
It might be instructive to ask ourselves what would have happened to Michael Brown if his jaywalking offense had been handled in what appears to be the "normal" manner in Ferguson. Based on what I just read, I would have to think that he would be issued summons for jaywalking and then might possibly have been obstructed from appearing, adding additional warrants and fines that he would not have been able to pay. And that's probably the BEST outcome he could have hoped for.
He might also have been arrested for shoplifting, assault and jaywalking, all with escalating penalties and punishments - he may have found himself to be labelled a felon, in which case his hopes for a future in heating and air conditioning would have been dashed as most companies require background checks and bonding.
So in Ferguson Missouri, it would seem that the future of Michael Brown became irremediably clouded once he jaywalked and drew police attention to himself.
I understand that the town of Ferguson has hired a PR firm. Good, they need one.
PART II- I feel compelled to add something that seems so obviously necessary to include in this diary that completes the circle of why Ferguson is Ferguson.
One of the things that has come out is that the power structure in Ferguson is almost exclusively Caucasian despite the fact that the 2010 census showed a 70/30 ratio of African Americans vs White population. Yet, despite this, according to The LA Times
Ferguson’s police chief and mayor are white. Of the six City Council members, one is black. The local school board has six white members and one Latino. Of the 53 commissioned officers on the police force, three are black, said Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.
How can this be? we ask ourselves. Well, one of the fruits of disparate policing and the spiraling of charges and the mass transformation of an entire population into fugitives due to outstanding bench warrants is that that same population has now been successfully disenfranchised of their vote. Felons don't vote* and fugitives don't vote.
Could that possibly provide part of the answer for the imbalance at the top in Ferguson? Is Ferguson an example of a perfect alignment of how imbalanced policing leads to imbalanced justice leads to imbalanced representation and voter suppression?
The lessons to be taken away from Ferguson and Michael Brown's death are many. I hope that his death may lead to changes in Ferguson, and in Missouri and in our country at large.
*(To be clear, the law in Missouri seems to be that felons may re-instate their right to vote and re-register once all sentences, probation, and parole have been completed)