By: Angelo Vidal, Communications Fellow
This Friday, August 26th marks a critical moment for tens of thousands of Black and poor St. Louis residents who have been extorted and exploited by Normandy’s modern-day debtors’ prison scheme. It is the final day to file a claim, and if eligible, receive money from a $1.3 million preliminary settlement approved by the federal court.
Since the claims period began in early April, people whose pockets were unlawfully treated as piggy banks to feed Normandy’s racist and revenue-based policing have been able to file a claim for compensation. While no amount of money could reverse the deep harm Normandy has caused individuals and families, this preliminary settlement is a first step in addressing these issues and holding municipalities accountable for illegal and racist practices.
“Change doesn’t occur by accident, and unfortunately municipalities have had to be forced into some accountability,” said Umi Okoli, a plaintiff in the suit. “People want to breathe easy when their children and grandchildren walk out the door and drive through places like Normandy. While this has been a long time coming, I’m hopeful that this is an example of change happening in St. Louis.”
With this victory, however, came a new challenge: informing over twenty-two thousand potential class members of the news and making sure they take the steps to get paid. While the claims administrator mailed postcards to class members, many of these addresses were old and outdated, meaning the news would never reach the people that needed to hear it. That’s why over the past several months, ArchCity’s lawyers, staff, and partners have worked tirelessly to spread information about the settlement, reach impacted individuals, and help them sign up to receive the money they deserve.
Across our social media platforms, we’ve posted a series of announcements educating the public about Normandy’s pattern of criminalizing Black and poor people, featuring the voices of our lawyers and impacted people, providing details about settlement deadlines and how to apply, and calling on the community to help us share this information with those who need it. You can view these posts here:
- Davis v. Normandy Infographic Carousel
- Normandy Class Action Video Announcement
- How to File a Claim + Deadline
Furthermore, we placed multiple news stories locally, raising awareness of not only Normandy but the proliferation of debtor’s prisons in other St. Louis municipalities where we have pending litigation. Click on the links below to read.
- St. Louis American: Deadline nears for plaintiffs in Normandy lawsuit settlement
- St. Louis Public Radio: Thousands of people jailed or fined in Normandy eligible for compensation
- Riverfront Times: If You Went to Jail in Normandy, the City May Owe You Money
- Post-Dispatch: Settlement reached in ‘debtors’ prison’ lawsuit against Normandy
- KSDK: 23,000 people could be affected by Normandy ‘debtors’ prison’ lawsuit
In addition to digital outreach, we recently partnered with Action St. Louis to canvass in impacted communities, spread the word, and distribute resources for folks to sign up and file a claim. With the help of their canvassing team, we were able to knock on 386 doors. Not long ago, 105 claims were made following these canvassing attempts, totaling more than $15,000.
“It feels really good to get some of the money back into the pockets of people who were jailed by the city of Normandy because they couldn’t afford their bond,” said Jack Waldron, ArchCity Defenders’ civil litigation managing attorney.
Despite our best efforts to encourage people to take advantage of the settlement, we heard over and over again that people are concerned that the news is a scam. With the intent of raising public awareness and confidence, a St. Louis resident and eligible class member decided to speak up. Listen to J.B.’s reaction to learning he was eligible for thousands at the top of this article.
As we near the end of the Normandy claims period, we recognize and celebrate this moment as an important milestone in ArchCity’s ongoing battle against the criminalization of race and poverty and effort to redress the abuses our communities face. We also recognize that the work is not done; there is still a long way to go.
Looking ahead, we anticipate continuing outreach to the thousands of people impacted by our ongoing debtor’s prison litigation, beginning with the proposed settlement class in Quinton Thomas v. City of Edmundson.
You can plug into our advocacy efforts around the Normandy settlement by sharing any of the media and resources linked on this page!
The suit, Angela Davis et al. v. City of Normandy, filed September 10, 2018 by ArchCity Defenders and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, alleges Normandy’s pattern and practice of exploiting primarily poor and Black individuals through an unlawful and perverse system of criminalizing, arresting, and jailing people who could not afford to pay court fines and fees which stemmed from over-policing, excessive ticketing, and a revenue-generating municipal court.
On March 29, 2022, a federal judge preliminarily approved three settlement classes in a debtors’ prison lawsuit against the City of Normandy. The proposed settlement class includes approximately 23,000 people.
To date, ArchCity Defenders and co-counsel have filed seven separate debtors’ prison cases against area municipalities. Jenkins v. Jennings settled in 2017 and provided more than $4 million in relief to local residents. Within the past three months, Davis v. Normandy and Thomas v. Edmundson have both been approved for classwide preliminary settlement, which means that impacted individuals can file a claim, now, in both cases, and if eligible, receive compensation. Two other cases, Fant v. Ferguson and Baker v. Florissant have class certification pending currently, while Thomas v. St. Ann will have class certification later this year. Collectively, the cases seek compensation for tens of thousands of residents of the St. Louis region whose constitutional rights were violated by area municipalities.
If you or someone you know was arrested, fined, or jailed in Normandy between September 10, 2013 and May 12, 2021, find out if you are eligible for cash by visiting normandyclassaction.com or call 314-828-9913