Ferguson MO’s traffic fines & jail conspiracy

An excellent New York Times article by Monica Davey about the until-now secret horror imposed upon citizens, too often black, by municipalities that derive their income from bogus traffic stops, subsequent fines and never-ending punitive measures including imprisonment: Ferguson One of 2 Missouri Suburbs Sued Over Gantlet of Traffic Fines and Jail – NYTimes.com.

It begins:

FERGUSON, Mo. — Herbert Nelson Jr. says he was 18 the first time the police pulled him over. The ticket, for speeding, felt small in the moment. But more traffic tickets piled up, as did warrants for failing to appear in court or pay his fines. So Mr. Nelson, now 26, has found himself repeatedly jailed in this St. Louis suburb and in the maze of municipalities nearby — part of a pattern that black residents here complain has grown all too common.

Reminded me sharply of the powerful New Yorker article by Sarah Stillman, entitled “Taken,” published in August 2013: Sarah Stillman: The Use and Abuse of Civil Forfeiture : The New Yorker. The tag under the headline reads:

Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we’re losing?

Both of these brilliant, piercing pieces of reporting about what I clearly perceive as criminal, utterly amoral actions taken by local governments — which supposedly preserve and apply even-handedly to us all the highest and most intimate moral consensus — should drive any average reader into fits of bewildered rage. Could these things actually be happening in this country?


Is there a term for this beyond simple corruption? Yes. Kleptocracy. (And you thought this only happened in Russia? In fact, Russia imposes this stop-and-seize crap primarily on mega-billionaires. Sensible: Putin and his cohort are not going to get rich from seizing the vehicles and possessions of the lower middle class or the poor. Ooh, an epiphany: klepto-governments should really really impose their laws only on the rich. Ferguson, are you reading this?)

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