Civil Liberties

Yes, Using Cops To Snatch Money from Citizens Via Petty Fines is One of the Roots of the Police Violence Problem


Mother Jones pulls together a conclusion regarding awful police violence that won't be news to Reason readers: using cops as petty enforcers of bullshit law designed almost entirely to squeeze bucks out of hapless citizens often guiltless of actually harming anyone's life or property is a root cause of the problem:

it is probably no coincidence that when you examine the recent rash of police killings, you find that the offenses they were initially stopped for were preposterously minor. Bland's lane change signal, DuBose's missing plate. Walter Scott had that busted taillight—which, we all later learned, is not even a crime in South Carolina. Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes. When Darren Wilson was called to look into a robbery, the reason he initially stopped Michael Brown was for walking in the street—in Ferguson, an illegal act according to Section 44-344 of the local code. Between 2011 and 2013, 95 percent of the perpetrators of this atrocity were African American, meaning that "walking while black" is not a punch line. It is a crime.

And not just a crime, but a crime that comes with fines that are strictly enforced. In 2014, Ferguson's bottom-line-driven police force issued 16,000 arrest warrants to three-fourths of the town's total population of 21,000. Stop and think about that for a moment: In Ferguson, 75 percent of all residents had active outstanding arrest warrants. Most of the entire city was a virtual plantation of indentured revenue producers….

"Once the system is primed for maximizing revenue—starting with fines and fine enforcement," Holder said apropos Ferguson, "the city relies on the police force to serve, essentially, as a collection agency for the municipal court rather than a law enforcement entity."….

When the poor come to understand that they are likely to be detained and fined for comically absurd crimes, it can't be a surprise to the police that their officers are viewed with increasing distrust. In this environment, running away from a cop is not an act of suspicion; it's common sense.

Remember: there are no debtors prisons in the U.S. of A, unless the debt is owed to the government at any level, in which they'll happily spend way more than your debt to punish you by imprisoning you if they get their hands on you. (You'll still owe the money! Probably more!)

Me on "Petty Law Enforcement vs. the Poor" back in January 2014.