Ferguson increased revenue by targeting poor Blacks

Freddie Allen | 3/16/2015, 9:38 a.m.
The Justice Department’s recent investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department not only revealed widespread racism in its operation, but ...
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Freddie Allen

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Justice Department’s recent investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department not only revealed widespread racism in its operation, but described how poor Blacks were targeted to boost the sagging revenues of small municipalities.

“Ferguson police officers issued nearly 50 percent more citations in the last year than they did in 2010 – an increase that has not been driven, or even accompanied, by a rise in crime,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder said at a press conference to release findings of its investigation of Ferguson. “Along with taxes and other revenue streams, in 2010, the city collected over $1.3 million in fines and fees collected by the court. For fiscal year 2015, Ferguson’s city budget anticipates fine revenues to exceed $3 million – more than double the total from just five years prior.”

Holder said that Ferguson police officers were pressured to deliver on those revenue goals, some even competed to see who could write the most citations in a single stop.

“Once the system is primed for maximizing revenue – starting with fines and fine-enforcement – the city relies on the police force to serve, essentially, as a collection agency for the municipal court rather than a law enforcement entity,” Holder explained.

He told the story of one woman, who received two parking tickets in 2007 for $152 and has paid more than $500 in fines and fees to Ferguson. She was arrested twice for failure to pay tickets and even spent time in jail and she still owes Ferguson $541.

Beyond the compounding fines and frequent traffic stops, Ferguson police, charged with upholding the law, ran roughshod all over it, routinely violated the civil rights of African American residents.

Holder said that the Justice Department’s investigation found “a community where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents.”

He said that the Justice Department’s investigation showed that Ferguson police officers “routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them. According to the police department’s own records, its officers frequently infringe on residents’ First Amendment rights.”

Holder added: “And even in cases where police encounters start off as constitutionally defensible, we found that they frequently and rapidly escalate – and end up blatantly and unnecessarily crossing the line.”

Holder recounted a 2012 arrest in which a Ferguson police officer approached a 32-year-old African American man while he sat in his car after playing basketball at a park.

“The car’s windows appeared to be more heavily tinted than Ferguson’s code allowed, so the officer did have legitimate grounds to question him,” Holder said. “But, with no apparent justification, the officer proceeded to accuse the man of being a pedophile. He prohibited the man from using his cellphone and ordered him out of his car for a pat-down search, even though he had no reason to suspect that the man was armed. And when the man objected – citing his constitutional rights – the police officer drew his service weapon, pointed it at the man’s head, and arrested him on eight different counts. The arrest caused the man to lose his job.”