[Cars owned by African-Americans in Ferguson] are stopped at about a 6x higher rate for "equipment" deficiencies than whites. Nitpicky regulations on car conditions (in Arizona your licence plate frame cannot cover any part of the word "Arizona" on the licence plate) are the great bugaboo of the poor and a nearly unlimited warrant for the police to stop minorities. Mexicans here in Phoenix will tell me "woe to the Mexican who drives around here with a broken tail light -- he will be pulled over 3 times a day to have his immigration status checked". In Phoenix, at least, stops for equipment issues are roughly the equivalent of pulling someone over for "driving while brown." Even beyond the open-ended warrant these silly violations give the police, the fines and court costs create meaningful indebtedness problems for the poor which are hard to overcome.
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.
You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant “low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.”
If you have money, for example, you can easily get a speeding ticket converted to a non-moving violation. But if you don’t have money it’s often the start of a downward spiral that is hard to pull out of
I can testify to that last point. I worked in the Emerson Electric headquarters for a couple of years, which ironically is located in one corner of Ferguson. One of the unwritten bennies of working there was the in house legal staff. It was important to make a friend there early. In Missouri they had some bizarre law where one could convert a moving violation to a non-moving violation. A fee still has to be paid, but you avoid points on your license that raises insurance costs (and life insurance costs, I found out recently). All of us were constantly hitting up the in-house legal staff to do this magic for us. I am pretty sure most of the residents of Ferguson do not have this same opportunity.