For years, poor black residents of St. Louis County complained bitterly about being jailed when they could not pay traffic fines. Protesters in Ferguson, after Michael Brown’s fatal shooting last year, cited those fines and related trips to jail as a major reason for their anger. When a measure was introduced in the Republican-held General Assembly calling for sharp limits in the revenue that Missouri towns can keep from traffic fines, what was unexpected was that white, suburban Republicans, a former St. Louis County police chief and leaders from several conservative groups supported it, says the New York Times. “If the St. Louis Tea Party coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union are on the same page on something, we must be going down the right path,” said Tea Party leader Bill Hennessy.
Their unlikely alliance helped the ticket-revenue bill pass unanimously in the State Senate last week, with approval in the House considered likely. Missouri is not the only place where left and right are joining forces on law enforcement issues. In Cincinnati, libertarians and the N.A.A.C.P. fought a jail expansion and red-light cameras. In Philadelphia, a coalition of conservatives and civil rights defenders has opposed civil asset forfeiture, a law enforcement practice that has often targeted small-business owners and the poor. Nationally, longtime foes FreedomWorks, a conservative group allied with the Tea Party, and MoveOn.org, the liberal advocacy group, are the anchor organizations in a new venture, the Coalition for Public Safety, to push for changes in criminal justice policy. The two sides' motivations are sharply different. Conservatives are driven by opposition to what they consider intrusive government and stealth taxes. Liberals cite issues like racial injustice and income inequality.