April 26, 2017
The State Auditor’s report on the Ferguson Municipal Court affirms what we have heard our clients say for years: that the courts, police departments, and jails in St. Louis have exploited and violated the most basic rights of the poor and people of color through excessive policing, illegitimate and exorbitant fines and fees, and the willful neglect of procedural rules and due process, all in order to generate millions of dollars of revenue. It was and has never been about true public safety. The audit also confirms the Constitutional violations clearly detailed in our ongoing class action lawsuits, Fant v. Ferguson, Reed v. Ferguson, and Powers v. Ferguson.
Regardless of the voluntary, half-measure reforms from these courts, the practices of the region’s legal system remain the same. Poor people are charged with ordinance violations that stem from their poverty. This becomes the sole reason they have come into contact with the legal system, which further drives them into poverty, destroying families in the process. While it is certainly better to offer alternatives, like community service instead of the threat of being locked in a cage because of one’s poverty, that is ultimately not the answer to the problem our clients and poor people in the region face. At some point, courts in this region have to accept that it is impossible to punish people out of poverty. Until they accept that basic human principle, we will never see meaningful progress.
Z. Gorley, Communications Director at ArchCity Defenders