Five years after complaints about persistent law enforcement stops of black drivers contributed to the public outcry in Ferguson, Mo., after the police shooting of an unarmed civilian, African-American drivers continue to be stopped at much higher rates than white drivers.
The disparity that has grown in Ferguson despite changes that have greatly reduced the number of traffic tickets, fines and arrest warrants issued, reports the New York Times..
The changes haven’t seemed to prevent African Americans from getting stopped, ticketed and fined at higher rates than people of other races.
After a police officer killed black teenager Michael Brown five years ago in Ferguson, protests led to a public outcry over race and policing. People were outraged to learn municipalities were issuing traffic tickets to finance city services — and jailing drivers who could not afford to pay — with blacks bearing the brunt of those policies.
Statewide, black motorists were nearly twice as likely as other motorists to be stopped, based on their share of the driving-age population, says a Missouri attorney general’s report. White drivers were stopped six percent less than would be expected.
In Ferguson, the disparity in traffic stops of black drivers has increased by five percentage points since 2013, while it has dropped by 11 points for white drivers.
“I can’t say things have gotten better,” said Blake Strode of ArchCity Defenders, a legal advocacy organization that has fought ticketing practices. While area traffic courts are less crowded, the makeup of the drivers looks largely the same.
At a Ferguson traffic court session in mid-July, although the city is two-thirds black, almost everyone appearing before the judge was black.
Elsewhere in criminal justice, St. Louis-area municipalities, which were condemned worldwide for running debtors’ prisons, dramatically scaled down their ticket, fine and jail operations to embrace community policing, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Lines for municipal courts no longer wrap around street corners, and 13 of the smallest courts consolidated into hubs in in the suburbs of Normandy and St. Ann.
Municipal court collections in St. Louis and St. Louis County were down 60 percent in 2018 from their 2014 levels.
Still, the area has barely budged toward reforms that would keep abuses from recurring. Among them: consolidating municipal courts preventing conflicts of interests among judges and prosecutors, and collecting municipal court fines and fees like any ordinary unpaid bill.
See also: “Have Americans Lost Interest in Police Reform?” The Crime Report, July 30, 2019.