Life is Tough on the Street, for Jaywalkers and Street Vendors
Hard I think to find a more powerful case of injustice/lack of equity–of not treating people fairly–than the revenue model for the City of Ferguson, Missouri.
Alex Tabarrok discusses the problem in his MarginalRevolution post: “Ferguson and the Modern Debtor’s Prison.”
The key claim is that ongoing police enforcement of regulations combined arbitrary management of the local court system, becomes a kind of harassment carried on by mostly white police, city government, and court officials.
Ferguson is a city located in northern St. Louis County with 21,203 residents living in 8,192 households. The majority (67%) of residents are African-American…22% of residents live below the poverty level.
…Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of $2,635,400. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household. (Quoted in post here.)
Middle-income residents can hire lawyers to get out of speeding (and maybe jaywalking) citations. But lower income residents tend to get caught in the revenue-generating local “justice” system:
For a simple speeding ticket, an attorney is paid $50-$100, the municipality is paid $150-$200 in fines and court costs, and the defendant avoids points on his or her license as well as a possible increase in insurance costs. For simple cases, neither the attorney nor the defendant must appear in court.
However, if you do not have the ability to hire an attorney or pay fines, you do not get the benefit of the amendment, you are assessed points, your license risks suspension and you still owe the municipality money you cannot afford….If you cannot pay the amount in full, you must appear in court on that night to explain why. If you miss court, a warrant will likely be issued for your arrest. (Source)
Jaywalking citations are no justification for charging a policeman (if that’s what happened). But people who feel they have been harassed by police over time tend to have a shorter and shorter fuse with each incident.
I wonder if the Ferguson police spend time enforcing local regulations restricting street vendors? That’s the story behind riots a few years ago across the Middle East.
Here is the page for getting a street-vending permit in St. Louis. Cooking food and selling is a common income source for people around the world. In St. Louis, potential food sellers face at least six steps and various regulations to read and regulators to visit for permits, and at a cost of at least $380 for permits…
• Health Permit application: ” $160.00 application fee, additional fees may apply. All fees must be paid with a business check or money order.”
• “If propane is being used in any way, you must obtain a Fire Permit. Cost is Twenty Dollars ($20.00)”
• And don’t forget insurance: “Insurance in the amount of twenty-five thousand dollars/fifty thousand dollars bodily injury coverage and property damage in the amount of ten thousand dollars with an insurance company of good standing on each vehicle used in the operation of the vending business.”