It might just be the most clear statistical documentation of police targeting African Americans yet. A small St. Louis suburb has just seen its police department increase ticketing African American families by 495% in order to raise revenue for their department.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Institute for Justice’s office has just filed a lawsuit alleging systemic racism by the police, in order to gain class action status this week against the city of Pagedale, Missouri.
In Pagedale, 95% of residents are African American. But in the past the rates of African American residents being ticketed, as compared to the other 5%, were not this high. All of a sudden, the police decided to start handing out more tickets to increase revenue – by 495 percent since 2010 – the lawsuit claimed, and they seem to have gone out of their way to not increase the percentage of tickets being given out to non-African American residents.
The lawsuit states that the City of Pagedale and the Pagedale Police Department, conducted “an unprecedented governmental intrusion into the homes of its residents.”
How did they do this? By issuing tickets for such minor infractions as having a grill in one’s front yard, or drinking beer too close to said grill. Even saggy pants were the common reason for being ticketed.
The complaint alleges that Pagedale officials threatened to demolish the homes of African American residents.
Later, when pressed, the city admitted that there was no threat posed by the homeowners. That means the threats were made entirely without legal basis, and were themselves illegal in nature.
Recently, a Justice Department investigation concluded that the nearby City of Ferguson, Missouri was also illegally raising revenue by fining residents – and disproportionately targeting African American residents.
Since then the state has passed a law limiting how much any city’s funding may come from traffic violations. But Pagedale got around that by going after home ordinances.
The New York Times notes that in 2013, only 17% of the city’s revenue was from fines and fees. Now that has all changed.
“This case demonstrates that property rights are fundamentally civil rights,” lawyer with the Institute for Justice William said to The Associate Press. “Pagedale treats its residents like walking, talking ATMs, making withdrawals by issuing tickets for ridiculous things that no city has a right to dictate.”
But Pagedale city attorney Sam Alton says that fining African American homeowners for minor and pointless infractions is “good for the community.”
“Both the lawsuit, and any perception that these people are being treated unfairly, is unfortunate,” Alton claimed. “The city is doing everything it can within the boundaries of the law to make sure that properties within the city are code compliant and do not present any type of danger or risk to the residents of the city.”
“The city is simply attempting to get these individuals to bring their property up to code like everyone else,” he continued. “If they just work with the city, and just do something minimally every month, those fines will be abated.”