Local Government

St. Louis Towns Sue for Right to Keep Milking Citizens with Fines

One mayor claims it's racist to try to stop it. No, really.


Technically Cool Valley is nowhere near downtown St. Louis, but, you know, arch picture.
Credit: roger4336 / photo on flickr

The angry aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, brought national attention to the way St. Louis County's small, often primarily black communities maintain governments by heavily fining its own citizens. Many of these communities were so small—with fewer than 5,000 citizens—they often did not have a decent local tax base to keep city services running. So they paid for their budgets by frequently finding reasons to fine their own citizens and then milk as much as they could out of them in a complex municipal court system.

In order to try to put an end to this abuse, the state of Missouri passed a law that capped the amount of a city's revenue it could get from traffic fines. For most towns in the state that number is 20 percent. For towns in St. Louis County, it's 12.8 percent.

The news today is that a dozen of these small towns in North St. Louis County have banded together, hired a lawyer, and are now suing the state to block the law. They are presenting two arguments that the law is unconstitutional. First, it treats St. Louis County differently from the rest of the state with different rules. And second, there is an unfunded mandate within the law that requires the communities to keep and submit records to the state about its fine collections and budgeting.

But there's more. Ferguson got a lot of attention for having a primarily white leadership in a heavily black community. That's not necessarily the case for these other towns. The mayor of Cool Valley (population: about 1,200) is black, and she has a particularly novel argument against the law, reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Cool Valley Mayor Viola Murphy said the law has already had a negative effect on her city. Because of a drop in municipal court revenue, she was unable to come up with the city's part of a matching grant for new sidewalks.

She said the law was an example of institutional racism and an attempt to disenfranchise north St. Louis County communities because it targeted struggling communities that are mostly African-American and do not get the support from the state that other areas get.

"Did you see our young people on Mizzou's campus?" she asked reporters at a news conference Thursday. "If those young people had the guts to stand up for what they call institutional racism, then we need to stand up and back them, and that's what we're doing."

It's racist not to let Murphy nickel-and-dime every last cent out of Cool Valley's black residents (84 percent of the population) in order to fund government services. Records show that Cool Valley in 2013 counted on court fines and fees to fund 55 percent of its budget. That works out to nearly $550 per resident collected by the municipal court per year. I wonder how those citizens feel about Cool Valley's revenue generation methods.

We could check with the nearby community of Pagedale. They're also one of the 12 cities suing to keep the fine train running. Pagedale is another primarily black community, and it's being sued by its own citizens for its unrelenting system of fines that tries to extract money from residents for everything from not having screen doors to having a barbecue in front of the house. The Institute for Justice has filed a class-action suit to try to stop it. These plaintiffs are the ones claiming civil rights violations. Watch what it's like to live in one of these towns below and ask yourself which side the Mizzou students would be most likely to support:

(Hat tip to Mark Sletten)

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  1. Limited government racists everywhere. EVERYWHERE!

  2. I live in a town with a little over five thousand people and we don’t even have a police force. We pay state troopers and sheriffs to have two guys available to answer emergency calls. When they’re not doing that they can usually be found taking a nap at the public boat launch.

    No local cops also means no ordinances, since the contracted cops only enforce state law.

    And our town offers virtually no services. There’s a transfer station for trash, a fire department, an ambulance, schools of course, and that’s about it. There are a few big businesses that pay the bulk of the property taxes, so those are low as well.

    There’s no way you could get me to live in an urban area. No. Fucking. Way.

    1. Well obviously your local government hasn’t read their portion of the Soshal Kontrakt

      1. My local government subscribes to the idea that the government that governs best governs the least.

    2. [Movie announcer’s voice]
      In a world without sidewalks – One man walks in the mud.

      1. Sidewalks are for losers who don’t have cars.

        1. Like children?

          1. The little shits should be toiling in the monocle factories, not walking around.

          2. They can walk and play in the street like they do in my town.

            We have sidewalks but they aren’t as much fun as streets though.

    3. our town offers virtually no services

      Obviously tour town is TEH RACIST otherwise they’d offer more services. /progDERP

    4. You must live in Somalia! Nice beaches! 🙂

  3. Government fines should never be part of a operating costs. Policing for proffit it a pox on freedom.Few people know how many things they do in a regular day they could be fined for in many places. In my area ,jay walking is a way of life.life

  4. Anyone who didn’t see shrinking government revenue get spun into accusations of racism, raise your hand.

  5. “ask yourself which side the Mizzou students would be most likely to support”

    I would suppose they would support the retarded side, which is the side of the municipalities.

    To them, the lesson of Ferguson isn’t that the government nickels and dimes the poor into greater poverty, then locks them up for BS reasons.

    No, the lesson is that Black People are Disenfranchised because their governments can’t raise enough revenue.

    And Michael Brown was gunned down in cold blood by a Ku Klux Kop while walking to his grandmother’s house to give the old lady her insulin prescription.

    (incidentally, why *is* St. Louis country treated differently from the rest of the state)

    1. From were Brown turned and came back towards Wilson he made it 21 feet. The audio of the shots lasts 6.5 seconds with a 3 second pause. That means Brown moved 21 feet in 3.5 seconds. That is 4 mph. For someone as tall as Brown that was a walk. 21 feet is about 8 steps. No way was Brown “charging full speed” as Wilson said. Also Wilson was outside with plenty of room to maneuver, not cornered. He could have backpedaled, dodged or even turned and ran away. He knew backup was on the way. He was armed while Brown was not. If he was so fearful for his life in those circumstances he’s a straight up coward and should never have been a cop.

      1. In the media, Michael Brown started out being a “gentle giant” who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

        Then they said he was trying to surrender – “hands up, don’t shoot!”

        Now after Wilson was exonerated by a state grand jury and the Obama/Holder Justice Department, you’re reduced to saying Wilson “could have backpedaled, dodged or even turned and ran away.”

  6. I’m beginning to suspect that there’s nothing progtards can’t link to “racism”.

    1. In progtard land it’s all about intentions. People who disagree with progtards are motivated by bad intentions, so they must be racist.

    2. Mayor Viola Murphy may not even be a prog. Given the demographics it’s likely that she’s an old school Democratic ward heeler. It’s really sad that black voters continue to elect these people who then proceed to fuck them over.

  7. Watch what it’s like to live in one of these towns below and ask yourself which side the Mizzou students would be most likely to support

    The government’s side. Always. Because not supporting the government is always racist. Don’t ask me to try and explain their “logic”.

  8. Wow. A City-level HOA.

    That’s terrifying.

  9. lol gotta love milkin that free money!


  10. I don’t get it. Why do they keep reelecting their municipal government?

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