Racism and police targeting in St. Louis County
Residents in St. Louis County feel targeted. Those feelings seem warranted after a report from the Department of Justice showed evidence of racism in emails exchanged between court officials and members of the Ferguson Police Department. Residents report the same type of behavior form the police all over the county.
St. Louis County has 90 municipalities and over 60 police forces. This means many residents have to travel through multiple jurisdictions just to get to school or work. Many of the people moving through these municipalities live in Section 8 housing and have trouble paying rent. Even with assistance, financial issues compound, making it difficult to keep cars legal, whether it’s registration, licenses, or emissions.
The result? Driving through multiple municipalities and getting multiple fines. They call this “driving through the gauntlet.”
There’s an argument that driving is a choice, as public transit exists, but it’s not only traffic violations. When we were in Ferguson, we heard countless stories of fines for minor infractions like sagging pants or jaywalking. Some areas where people were fined for jaywalking don’t even have crosswalks or sidewalks.
As challenging as all this sounds—it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Fines for minor infractions become warrants. Since there are so many different courts and police forces, you could end up getting multiple fines for the same infraction. If you can’t pay those fines, they become warrants, and leave you with multiple warrants in the multiple jurisdictions.
Then you get to “go on tour.” After finishing your time for an outstanding warrant in one municipality, you get shipped to serve time for the same infraction. Where in most places you might see a few days in jail for unpaid fines, in St. Louis County you can see weeks.
How can we expect the poorest of us to find their way out of poverty and to succeed when they get weighed down by institutional racism, fines, and imprisonment?
The issues that have surfaced from Ferguson are just another grain of sand in the growing heap of anger, a heap which I feel will only get bigger.
The Fusion documentary “Ferguson: Report From Occupied Territory,” will premiere on Fusion.net next week.