Ferguson Won't Go Away

Ferguson just won’t go away. We now have two police officers in stable but serious condition after being shot the other night after yet another protest demanding more blood, figuratively and literally it seems, from the Ferguson Police Department. A Justice Department report found that fines, often traffic related, were up to a quarter of the revenue for the municipality and that police officers tended to stop black drivers far more often. Not to quibble, but Ferguson is a largely black town, so the odds are that if police officers are doing routine checks, then African American drivers are more likely to be stopped. But the well has been poisoned for some time now it seems, and carefully parsing statistics on police behavior is like whispering in the middle of a bar brawl. The divide is clear and hostile between town authorities and the black population and change needs to come. Court clerks, a judge, police officers, City manager John Shaw - blamed for the for-profit fine slapping zeal of the police force - and now Chief Jackson, have all resigned.

What next? A new police chief is being sought from candidates right across the country, and media from around the world will gladly record any and all stumbles by officials and any new flare-ups in the small suburb of St. Louis. A story in the Washington Post last September outlines the dangers of not paying your traffic fines in St. Louis suburbs and the fact that drivers who are poor tend not to pay fines and registration fees nor renew their license plates because they’re often short of cash. That snowballs into jail time and bail fees and a police record. If indeed Ferguson had a policy of being sticklers with fines to fill up the city coffers, then continual confrontation between police and poor residents who drive was inevitable. To the extent that the black population is closer, on average, to the poverty line in suburbs like Ferguson, racial tensions inevitably ratchet up. Perhaps a part of any answer is easing up on traffic fines, but this is now a problem that will require deft management from whoever replaces Shaw and Jackson in Ferguson. One that encompasses everything from minor violations like those very tickets that go unpaid, to police officers keeping order getting shot right outside their own police department. Like it or not, Ferguson has become a symbol. The new police chief and the new city manager will have the arduous task of turning it into just another suburb of St. Louis. That will take some time doing.

What next? A new police chief is being sought from candidates right across the country, and media from around the world will gladly record any and all stumbles by officials and any new flare-ups in the small suburb of St. Louis. A story in the Washington Post last September outlines the dangers of not paying your traffic fines in St. Louis suburbs and the fact that drivers who are poor tend not to pay fines and registration fees nor renew their license plates because they're often short of cash. That snowballs into jail time and bail fees and a police record. If indeed Ferguson had a policy of being sticklers with fines to fill up the city coffers, then continual confrontation between police and poor residents who drive was inevitable. To the extent that the black population is closer, on average, to the poverty line in suburbs like Ferguson, racial tensions inevitably ratchet up. Perhaps a part of any answer is easing up on traffic fines, but this is now a problem that will require deft management from whoever replaces Shaw and Jackson in Ferguson. One that encompasses everything from minor violations like those very tickets that go unpaid, to police officers keeping order getting shot right outside their own police department. Like it or not, Ferguson has become a symbol. The new police chief and the new city manager will have the arduous task of turning it into just another suburb of St. Louis. That will take some time doing.

Posted by Keeley at March 13, 2015 3:34 PM
Comments
Comment #390585

Having lived in Manhattan Beach CA for years Ferguson is probably a rookie when it comes to revenue by fines and penalties. The difference is that Ferguson is 67% black and Manhattan Beach is 85% white. Both play the same game.

While it’s clear from all the news reports that Ferguson has a race problem plenty of municipalities have to deal with the same issues and there should be numerous models for Ferguson to adopt. I work in Charlotte NC now and they do a good job of it.

Posted by: George in SC at March 16, 2015 5:14 PM
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