Ask yourself why it takes Mike Brown’s killing, 215 days of protests, federal and state class action lawsuits, the Department of Justice, and proposed legislation for many of us to even begin to accept the possibility that our governmental entities, our police, and our courts operate in a way that devastates the lives of the poor and communities of color.
Jeremy Kohler, Jennifer Mann, and Stephen Deere have important pieces in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today on our municipal court system that lay bare the racial and economic disparities in treatment of our fellow citizens. We urge you to read their work as well as all the DOJ Ferguson Police Department report, our municipal courts study, Better Together’s report, MORE’s recommendations, and TE Lauer’s Prolegomenon to Municipal Court that exposed these issues in 49 years ago in 1966. This just isn’t new. It’s a way of life for us but hopefully it’s coming to an end.
For our clients, it just isn’t newsworthy to say that poor people and black people are pulled over, ticketed, detained, jailed, and exploited financially at a great personal and economic loss. That’s their lived experience and it has been that way for as long as anyone knows. In fact, it’s so unremarkable to be pulled over, ticketed and arrested on unpaid debt in St. Louis that many of our clients cannot state how many times it has happened to them.
Be outraged. Write your elected officials, the judge, prosecutor, and the mayor. Ask everyone why something hasn’t been done about this practice in the past. Ask what training lawyers, city officials, and police officers receive? Ask about their ethical obligations? Ask what they learn in law school that leads them to the conclusion that any of these practices are remotely acceptable? Ask everyone why something hasn’t been done about this practice in the past. Ask yourself the same question. The truth is, as a society we don’t listen to the poor and people from communities of color when they tell us that our systems are destroying their lives. As a result, we’ve all turned a blind eye to these problems, among others, for way too long.
After that, ask yourself what you can do to help? Go to the court, the jails, and the homeless shelters and just ask anyone why they are there. You will hear stories about human beings just like you who are struggling to get what we all want: a roof over our heads, a job, and time with our family and friends.
And don’t pretend this is limited to Ferguson, St. Louis, or just Missouri. We have criminalized poverty in America. It is at the heart of so much of how we operate in our country right now. We have to change.