The Washington Post, of all places, takes a deeper look at the social topography in greater St Louis and discovers that what hurts the urban poor isn’t so much racism as Government greed and corruption.
Local Governments in and around St. Louis have made a lucrative racket of shaking down the poor by having cops write tickets and courts impose fines for victimless crimes. The collusion of cops, courts, and local politicians is a highly lucrative racket. No wonder the urban poor feel persecuted and preyed upon.
Some of the towns in St. Louis County can derive 40 percent or more of their annual revenue from the petty fines and fees collected by their municipal courts. A majority of these fines are for traffic offenses, but they can also include fines for fare-hopping on MetroLink (St. Louis’s light rail system), loud music and other noise ordinance violations, zoning violations for uncut grass or unkempt property, violations of occupancy permit restrictions, trespassing, wearing “saggy pants,” business license violations and vague infractions such as “disturbing the peace” or “affray” that give police officers a great deal of discretion to look for other violations. In a white paper released last month (PDF), the ArchCity Defenders found a large group of people outside the courthouse in Bel-Ridge who had been fined for not subscribing to the town’s only approved garbage collection service. They hadn’t been fined for having trash on their property, only for not paying for the only legal method the town had designated for disposing of trash.
The people hit hardest by these fines are the working poor, for whom a fine of $100 or more is a severe hardship. And it isn’t a case of white-run Governments and white-run police forces shaking down poor black people. Black-run municipalities are as bad and worse.
The town of Berkeley, for example, has an all-black town Government and a majority black police force. Yet…
If any town could overcome the legacy of structural racism that drew the map of St. Louis County, then, it would be Berkeley. And yet this town of 9,000 people still issued 10,452 traffic citations last year, and another 1,271 non-traffic ordinance violations. The town’s municipal court raised over $1 million in fines and fees, or about $111 per resident. The town issued 5,504 arrest warrants last year, and has another 13,436 arrest warrants outstanding. Those are modest numbers for St. Louis County, but they’re high for just about anywhere else.
What’s really dividing America isn’t race; it’s corrupt and predatory Government at the local, state, and national level.