August 6, 2015 at 12:55 pm #12865VitalogyParticipant
A year after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown sparked a firestorm in Ferguson, the city is still pumping out thousands of new arrest warrants and jailing people over minor offenses, according to an exclusive CNNMoney analysis.
This practice continues despite a scathing report from the Department of Justice in March that found that Ferguson’s police department and municipal court were unconstitutionally targeting low-income and minority residents with tickets and fines for minor offenses — often in pursuit of revenue. The report noted that there were more than 16,000 people (residents and non-residents alike) with outstanding arrest warrants as of the end of last year, equivalent to around 75% of the town’s population.
While the police were the ones giving out the tickets, the DOJ slammed the city’s court for using arrest warrants to squeeze money out of the people least able to afford the fines. Even though there need to be repercussions for people who break the law and ignore their tickets, the DOJ says jail time is far too harsh a punishment for infractions that rarely pose a major threat to public safety.
But in the wake of the DOJ report, CNNMoney found that Ferguson is still at it. The city has issued more than 2,300 new arrest warrants so far this year and thousands of older warrants continue to haunt people — even as neighboring municipalities are wiping out old tickets or warrants entirely.
For one Ferguson woman, an old ticket for an expired car registration resulted in a warrant that she didn’t learn about until she tried to renew her license several months ago. Meanwhile, her neighbor could be arrested at any time because of a ticket she couldn’t afford to pay for having an old, beat-up car parked in her driveway.
A St. Louis mail carrier went to court in Ferguson five times to fight a ticket for driving through a stop sign, but he still ended up with an arrest warrant when he was late to pay the fine. And CNNMoney spoke to multiple people who had recently been arrested and taken to Ferguson’s jail after police had discovered their warrants during traffic stops.
“They’re still engaging in racial profiling, still over-enforcing and still issuing too many warrants,” said Brendan Roediger, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law who is representing plaintiffs in two lawsuits against Ferguson over its municipal court operations.
In CNNMoney’s analysis, minor offenses dominated the dockets, representing nearly 80% of the nearly 2,000 tickets that led to arrest warrants in April and May. For example, 37 seat belt citations and 104 speeding tickets turned into arrest warrants in these two months. Meanwhile, nearly 100 tickets were for the most minor of violations: having an overgrown yard or rundown house, playing loud music, parking incorrectly, being out past curfew, displaying a license plate in the wrong way, or walking in the road inappropriately.
This last charge, officially listed as “manner of walking along roadway,” was highlighted by the DOJ in its report, which cited an example of one man who received a ticket after dancing in the street. The report said 95% of the people cited for this offense in recent years were African-American.
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