The Debts of Ferguson
The real tragedy in Ferguson may be in the uncovering of what had been going on right under their noses for years. The Police departments racism? No. The DA’s incompetence? Partly. THE DEBTORS PRISON? That’s right.
For years the City of Ferguson (and others around St. Louis) had been putting people in jail for not paying small fines for traffic and other infractions. But rather than stand up for themselves and vote for politicians – like a Democrat DA – who would protect them from abuse and misuse of the legal system for financial gain by the government, they simply folded up and went along with it. Until the City was exposed for the den of corruption that it is over the past summer, but not in the way that most people think. Now a Federal suit has been filed, alleging that at least 11 people were jailed because they simply did not have the ability to pay a small fine.
There are arguments on both sides of this, such as – “if you can’t pay the fine, don’t do the crime,” but we aren’t talking about “crimes” here in the sense of public safety is threatened or some sort of massive wave of unrest. We’re talking about parking fines, court fees and other “minor offense” fines.
I once, as you know, had my license suspended, but because of an address change I was unaware of it (and before you give me sh**, I still have the receipt from the Post Office that proves that I did fill out the change of address online). By the time everything got straightened out three years later, I owed a good deal of money in fines and fees that the State of California tacked on even though I still maintain that it was their fault. I still had to pay it or they wouldn’t give me my license back.
Another time I got a bogus parking ticket from the City of Modesto because the Cop was too lazy to look for the sticker, which was prominently displayed in the rear window. I told Chief Harden that I wouldn’t pay it, he laughed it off. The State, however, tacked the ticket on to my vehicle registration, and no amount of “The Chief said it was cool,” had any sway with them.
All that to say that we have all been there, dealing with a bureaucracy that is easier to pay off than it is to navigate. How likely is it that they have also figured out that a whole bunch of little fines and fees add up to a whole lot of money for the government?
In the case of Ferguson, it equaled $21 Million a YEAR. The second largest source of income for the City. The City of Ferguson essentially functioned on these kinds of fines and fees. Do you understand the infrastructure that has to be in place to produce that kind of income? The effort involved?
All maintained by the fear generated by jailing those who don’t cough up the money.
This, by the by, is pretty much the same scam that was going on in Bell, CA, before they got caught paying themselves millions in salaries and benefits. It was also the same thing in that the local people took no action to defend themselves by voting for people of character and integrity. They simply accepted it and paid up while the corrupt bastards got richer and richer.
In St. Louis County, Prosecutor Bob McCullough, the man who is being examined for his handling of the Brown Grand Jury, has done nothing to stop or even investigate these abuses while being re-elected every four years since 1991.
Now we find out that screwing up Grand Jury proceedings is par for the course. While local governments rake in cash the man and the department designed to protect the rights of the citizen was doing pretty much everything but that.
Raise your hand if your really surprised. And then ask yourself how much YOUR city/County is making off the same scam?