How California Targets Poor People of Color for Profit

By Adam Hudson. Originally published at TeleSur

Not everyone who goes through traffic court is there for drunk driving or other dangerous behavior. Many are there for simply being too poor.

Before a Minnesota police officer fatally shot him, 32-year-old Black man Philando Castile was pulled over 31 times and slapped with 63 traffic charges. Several municipalities, like Ferguson, Missouri, have debtors’ prisons that target and keep working-class people of color in a perpetual cycle of debt to finance their courts. California cities are no exception. A report by the civil legal aid group Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR) shows that rates of driver’s license suspensions due to unpaid traffic fines are significantly higher for Blacks and Latinos, particularly those in lower-income neighborhoods.

If someone fails to appear (“FTA”) in court for a traffic violation or fails to pay (“FTP”) an infraction ticket or drives with a suspended license, they are committing a misdemeanor in California. This can occur even if the license suspension results from inability to pay a fine. California law allows police to “arrest, book, and jail people for traffic court warrants or the criminal misdemeanor offense of driving with a suspended license” when those people cannot afford to pay a ticket fine.

Conviction can lead to six months in jail, several years of probation, and exorbitant fees. Once those infractions are in traffic court, huge fees are tacked on. The fees include state penalty assessment, conviction assessment, and others. These fees can increase a US$100 fine to US$490 or, if the first payment deadline is missed, as high as US$815. In looking at zip code and county data, the LCCR report reveals significant correlations between household income, race, and rates of license suspensions.

According to the report, “Of the zip codes with suspension rates higher than the average, 92 percent have household income levels lower than the average.” Moreover, most zip codes with Black populations above 20 percent “have a license suspension rate above the average.”

Mapping data from Los Angeles and San Francisco Counties show that license suspension rates and arrests for FTA/FTP and driving with a suspended license are far higher in neighborhoods with larger Black and Latino populations, higher poverty rates, and lower household income. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately arrested for driving with a suspended license and failure to appear in court or pay a traffic fine.

From 2013 to 2015, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department made 4,391 FTA/FTP arrests and 19,108 arrests for driving with a suspended license. African-Americans — 9.2 percent of LA’s population — made up 32.5 percent of FTA/FTP arrests and 33 percent of suspended license arrests; Latinos — 48.4 percent of the city’s population — made up 55.2 percent of FTA/FTP arrests and 52.2 percent of suspended license arrests; while whites — 26.8 percent of the population — constituted 12.3 percent of FTA/FTP arrests and 14.8 percent in suspended license arrests.

During the same period, in the City and County of San Francisco, the Sheriff’s Department made 855 FTA/FTP arrests and 9,312 suspended license arrests. Whites — 41.2 percent of San Francisco’s population — made up 22.7 percent of FTA/FTP arrests and 39.7 percent of driving with a suspended license arrests; while Blacks — barely 6 percent of the city’s population — constituted 48.7 percent of FTA/FTP arrests and 45.4 percent suspended license arrests.

In both Los Angeles and San Francisco, whites arrested throughout the city, while Blacks and Latinos are typically arrested in impoverished, low-income neighborhoods. This intense, racialized policing exists despite there being “no documented difference in driving behavior” between whites and nonwhites. Rather, implicit and explicit racial biases “clearly play a role in who is stopped,” according to the report. Studies have shown that whites and many Americans, associate Black people with criminality and perceive them to be more violent and criminal than other races.

The story of Velia Duenas, a 25-year-old Latina single mother of two daughters currently living between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, reveals how this system damages a person’s life. As a teenager, Duenas racked up four to five truancy tickets, mostly for skipping school. Duenas, her single mother, and three siblings struggled to survive on welfare. Her mother offered to pay her tickets. However, Duenas did not want her mother to pay for her mistakes so she refused her help. Duenas tried to pay her tickets through a payment plan but the juvenile center wanted her to pay a lump sum per ticket.

Her tickets range from US$200 to $845 each, which means it would take US$1,000 to US$1,500 to pay off all the citations she racked up as a minor. Because of the unpaid tickets she got as a minor, Duenas is unable to get a driver’s license. She explained, “When I hit 17, when I actually started to get behind the wheel, I went to the DMV, tried to get a driver’s license, tried to fill it out. I wasn’t able to because of what I owed for my juvenile record.”

As a result, her license was put on hold and she was never able to take the test. On top of the hold, her license was suspended due to the number of times police caught her driving without a license. The hold from her juvenile record is lifted but what is holding Duenas back are four to five unpaid traffic tickets for driving with a suspended license. Since Duenas cannot afford to pay those traffic tickets, she had no choice but go to jail. Of the four to five tickets she got, she served jail time for three of them. She recently spent 39 days in jail for driving with a suspended license.

Jail was “horrible,” said Duenas. “I was always grew up saying to myself that I would never step foot in there [jail] because of my father being there, growing up, in and out. To be in there for such a minor issue, I felt like I was going crazy. I mean, it sucks. It was depressing for me.” Legally, traffic court defendants have the right to use economic hardship and inability to pay as a defense for not paying a ticket, which she used. However, the judge rebuked her, arguing that if she can pay for a cell phone then she can afford to pay her exorbitant tickets.

Even though Duenas’ step-father, a truck driver, offered to get her a truck driving job alongside him, she can’t because she does not have a license. This is among the many obstacles placed on a person’s life if their license is suspended. Not having a driver’s license makes it difficult to go to work or run necessary errands. In areas where public transportation is almost nil — such as Bakersfield, where Velia sometimes lives — that can be next to impossible if one does not have access to a car.

Plus, many jobs and job-training programs require that employees have driver’s licenses to obtain full time, steady employment. Some private employers screen out applicants who do not have driver’s licenses. Dana Isaac, the Thurgood Marshall Fellow at ICCR whose work focuses on traffic courts and license suspensions, told AlterNet that many tickets that go through traffic court are not just for minor driving violations but also “quality-of-life citations.”

These can include “offenses for jaywalking, for littering, for riding public transportation without a transfer depending on who issues the ticket, a lot of camping, which we see with a lot of homeless clients. It really involves a lot of issues and tickets that can be issued essentially as poverty offenses,” she explained. San Francisco’s sit-lie ordinance prohibits sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk, which effectively criminalizes homeless people for sleeping in public. Therefore, not everyone who goes through traffic court is there for drunk driving or other dangerous behavior. Many are there for just being too poor.

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  1. pretzelattack

    and of course poor people can’t hire lawyers, and legal aid is overburdened. i wonder when this starts hitting the middle class.

    1. Jessie G

      It will hit the middle class when budgets get so stretched that they increase fines and widen the net on what fee related “crimes” result in prison time. It will come, the middle class is in for a rude awakening (those who don’t already see it coming).

      1. vlade

        middle class is a bit more likely to vote than poor minorities – especially poor minorities who are illegal immigrants. you need more sophstication to skim middle class (still very possible, but differnt tactics and strategy)

        1. VietnamVet

          Student Loans, Lexus Lanes, Red Light & Speed Cameras, ObamaCare, Charter Schools, Private and Public Partnerships, Financialization and Global War On Terror

          1. tony

            MIddle class already has developed some resistance to those policies. Hence Trump and Bernie.

  2. Dave

    Something else, that should be mentioned is “cash for clunkers”. This program removed huge numbers of simple, easy and inexpensive to maintain vehicles from the roads in America.

    Yes, older cars did pollute. I think the other motivation was to help save the car companies and the economy in general.

    In addition there in a stream of older simpler vehicles south into Mexico and Central America, never to return. Try buying a simple used Toyota Hilux pickup truck that last forever, for example. They are gone.

    New cars are very reliable. And are very expensive. Once they get old, engine fuel and air pollution components need adjustment or replacement. Because of the complication and necessity to have a special computer to check, adjust or modify the fuel systems, plus the latest software, they get expensive to repair. In many cases only the expensive dealer has those tools. Chevrolet announced that they are not updating or supporting software for cars that are over one year old.

    This leads to them not passing the biannual California smog test which also applies whenever a car is sold, except to an immediate family member. Not passing the smog test means no registration which leads to people peeling off the yearly sticker from someone else’s car, or stealing/switching their license plates.

    Tail lightbulbs are not that expensive, nor are they that difficult to replace. It astounds me how many real criminals are caught with half a million dollars of drugs in their trunk because they didn’t bother to check or replace a two dollar light bulb.

    Now, do white people driving cars with burned out tailights and or switched or tricked license plate stickers get a free pass from the police behind them? I find that hard to believe.

      1. Duke

        Arguably the manufacturing of any new car, with exotic electronics, plastics, is a bigger environmental hit than five years of tailpipe emissions from a poor person’s hooptie. Certainly allowing cars to go smog-exempt at a certain age would help people get by, without bringing back amber afternoons in the LA basin.

        This repair program thing is also bit of a racket — during a period where I had more time than money I took advantage of this, regrettably. The “BAR / CARB Gold Shield” shop took our voucher, and in thirty minutes it was done. Billed for >$400 of OEM parts and fittings, and an hour of labor, totaling almost exactly $500. Next smog check that converter was literally toast, and we learned post-mortem that they’d cut off my OEM header pipes and intermediates, and welded in a $70 universal cat which is supposedly illegal to even purchase in CA. It took over $800 to repair it properly, due to the previous butchery. All out of warranty by then, no recourse.

    1. pretzelattack

      i think they are both less likely to be stopped and more likely to be let off with a warning.

    2. Alex morfesis

      The criminalization of poverty…perfect example…it is not legal to deny you a registration of vehicle due to age of vehicle and inability to pass a state mandated emissions test…it is federal law…but go try to get a state to abide by it…or even get the proper forms to process it…so poor people are “told” they have to junk their car or drive illegally…when it is just not so…

      but none of the usual suspect organizations seems to care…

      better tyrone and juanita walk to work then add a smidgen of pollution…

      nimby planet…bah humbug…

  3. sd

    Most are not aware that Jaywalking is a moving violation so it’s a point on your license which can then impact your insurance rate. So two jaywalking tickets, and you are off to traffic school.

  4. Westcoaster

    What we’re seeing is the cost of legally operating a car moving past the grasp of those with low income. It’s not just people of color, poor whites go through the grinder too. I have one kid who lost his car to impound and another who I just fronted a loan for her registration.

  5. so

    Captain Benjamin Willard in Apocalypse Now: I’m a soldier.
    Colonel Walter Kurtz: You’re neither. You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill
    Feels right to me.

  6. Pirmann

    Agreed that there are a lot of dumb traffic laws. But sheesh, there’s a lot of dumb decision-making that caused or at very least exacerbated the issue. I see this all the time with poor and working class folks. Many people’s biggest problem is themselves. To wit:

    1. Go your butt to school. Result, no truancy tickets.
    2. Let others help you when you need it and they offer. Result, the situation is taken care of instead of being left to get worse.
    3. Don’t drive without a license. No license, probably no insurance either, meaning you hit someone, they’re SOL.
    4. 25 years old, single mom with 2 kids, no license. Maybe get your life in some semblance of order before having kids.

    I get that some of these laws are not the greatest, but folks do themselves no favors with the dumb decisions that they make.

    1. fritter

      No, it has nothing to do with dumb traffic laws. It has to do with disproportionate punishment of the kind you have not had the mispleasure of encountering, yet. An institutional version grinding down a growing lower class for fun and profits. Being a dumb kid in the 70’s could get you beat, grounded, or shamed. Being a dumb kid today can ruin your life permanently.

      You just justified ruining someones life, totally cutting out any hope of opportunities at a point in their life society wouldn’t trust them to vote or drink a beer, even die for “their country.” That’s pretty messed up. Its an egregious feedback loop that persists because of callous people who can’t imagine themselves or anyone they care about in the same position. At least consider the practical side of having 2 kids with a mom that won’t ever be able to make anything of herself. You’ll be paying for them, in higher taxes, insurance, or when a meth addled stranger crosses your path one day.

      1. Pirmann

        Nah, I’m fairly sympathetic towards folks who try hard and just can’t catch a break. Maybe the story cited in the article is just a poor example, no pun intended.

        I guess I’m not seeing any laws that, if revised, would have helped both the woman and society as a whole. OTOH, I AM seeing several poor decisions on HER part that would have made a positive change.

        Do we not want folks to attend school? Do we not want drivers to be tested, licensed, and insured? Do we not want these laws enforced? Should we just have “suggestions” rather than laws?

        I also don’t see a race or socioeconomic factor in regard to the anecdote. These are laws that we’re all expected to follow. I would have liked to skip school too, but I didn’t. I’d like to be able to drive without the inconvenience and expense of getting a license/plates/registration/insurance, but I don’t. I’d have liked to have a bunch of casual unprotected sex in my teens and early twenties, but I chose to protect.

        Decisions. Not poverty, not race.

        1. Nelson Lowhim

          Well, plenty can be changed to help that, to include better public trans so they don’t have to rely on a car, or other forms of assistance instead of fining them into debtors’ prisons. Not to mention society should want to help create better people. I’m always suspicious of people who want to claim that poverty and race don’t matter, just the “right” decisions need to made at all times. Right. It ignores the fact that punishment against people in lower SES will be more debilitating and snowball into worse decisions (to say nothing of extra chances given to the rich etc).

        2. Lois

          Well then I’m sure you support free taxpayer funded birth control and liberal abortion laws, right?

          1. Pirmann

            Negatory. I believe in freedom of choice when it comes to one’s own life. Unfortunately, we’ve not yet found a way to communicate with fetuses, and given that they are clearly “a life”, I unequivocally support allowing them to live.

            You want choice? Choose concerning your own life. Fetuses should be alllowed to do the same.

            Birth control – yes, all day long. But visiting the bor-bor clinic isn’t a BC substitute, as many like to use it.

            Also, as you’ll notice from the anecdote in the article, poor people are having their kids, so abortion as a means of reducing impoverished children would have to be considered an abject failure, if in fact that were one of its goals.

        3. Oguk

          Yeah, of course people make bad decisions. But the cards are stacked very high against some people. Some mornings there’s a household crisis and you couldn’t get to school on time, even though you wanted to. Maybe you could say “you didn’t want to enough”. But yeah, maybe school sucks anyway and you always feel put down by the teachers, or have to always be on guard because of bullies, and yeah, you just don’t have the energy to slog through what it takes to get to and through school – today. I’m guessing you probably didn’t feel that way growing up. Every day. And now, because of your “bad decisions”, you don’t have a f**ing chance in your life, you’ll never drive, you can’t pay off your debts, you’re screwed. Was it really all because of your bad decisions?

          As this column has pointed out, there’s no point in distinguishing the deserving poor from the undeserving poor. Sometimes they overlap. Sometimes the deserving poor become the undeserving poor and vice versa.

          But structural aspects of our society either really help the poor or heap extra burdens on the poor. The latter must be fought.

        4. John Zelnicker

          You really have no concept of the limits that the poor and disadvantaged have in decision-making (since decisions seem to be your touchstone). Looking at a few of your assumptions, you seem to believe that all a person has to do is make a decision and execute that decision, ignoring that fact that some decisions cost real money.

          You would like to drive without the expense of following all the rules, you say, but you don’t because you can afford to follow them. Suppose you couldn’t afford the registration/insurance, but you needed to drive to your job in order to feed your children (no adequate public transport), what decision would you make? Let your kids starve or take a chance on driving to work without registration/insurance?

          Your cluelessness is only exceeded by your lack of empathy.

          1. Pirmann

            I definitely have said concepts. What I’m getting at is, what exactly do you expect “the system” to do to make things better exactly? The system cannot make decisions for people. The system cannot make the disfunctional functional.

            Have you ever seen the series Shameless? Although it’s fictional, and a bit exaggerative perhaps, these are the types of people, people of all races, that the system simply cannot help. Fiona in particular. Every time she tries to get ahead… jobs, marriage, etc., the dysfunction and poor decision-making sabotages her every time. Many people are truly like that. They live in a state of perpetual chaos and dysfunction. The system, no matter what we do, will not be able to help them long-term.

              1. Pirmann

                Predatory actions taken against those who are least able to defend themselves should be abolished at all levels.

                But my point is that the article contends that “the story of V Duenas… reveals how this system damages a person’s life”, but in reality, poor decisions on her part created a downward spiral that ultimately landed her in jail. It wasn’t a good example of the system ruining her life so much as her inability to make good decisions ruining her life.

              2. DrZ

                This scam exists to fund the government. At all levels. From wealthy judges and upper level bureaucrats to low level meter maids and DMV drones. The vast majority of whom have never produced anything of value. Here in Cali voters put constraints on how high taxes can be, but the loophole is “fines” and “fees”. It is not targeted at blacks and browns but everybody (not in the government club). The difference is that poor people, of all colors, can’t weasel out of all the bullshit. And for rich(er) people, the $100 administration fee on top of a $21 ticket (or whatever) is not that big of a deal.
                Stop making it a white vs black thing. It’s a government vs “the People” thing.

                1. Lambert Strether

                  It is a government vs. the people thing and and (some) “blacks” vs. (some) “whites” thing. The Ferguson figures, which I believe are representative of small municipalities in the St Louis area, show this. (And, of course, it’s also a poor vs. non-poor thing, since the people on the wrong side of the tracks in Ferguson, who bear the brunt of the city’s law enforcement for profit scheme, are disproportionately black and poor.

                  Put this another way: If you were a CEO for a law enforcement for profit operation, would you pick your targets randomly? Or would you prey on the most vulnerable?

            1. John Zelnicker

              Well, we could start with Lambert’s suggestion and continue with providing living wage jobs to anyone who wants one, build public transit systems, provide low/no cost day care for working parents, Medicare-for-All. Lots of stuff we could do.

              You say you have said concepts. Let me ask you this: Have you ever been in a position where you had no idea how you were going to get your next meal(s)? If not, or something similar, your conceptualizations are worthless without personal experience.

            2. aab

              There’s plenty of chaotic behavior, poor decision-making and dysfunction on the part of the rich, as well. And they rarely pay a price for it, while living off the exploited labor of others. They take much more out of the communal economy and generally cause much more harm. Dupont heir raping his three year old child and not getting jail time because it would be hard for him ring any bells? Or the affluenza kid who killed and crippled people joyriding drunk? Or the finance guy who drove his car into a tree and tossed his passenger out still breathing (the guy died in the road) before driving away? Dumped the guy in front of his house. Could have knocked on the door and they might have been able to save him, too. Is that a poor enough decision for you?

              But sure, let’s talk about how people with horribly cramped and oppressive lives should perfectly manage their difficult choices at all times and if not, let’s crush them and exploit them unto death. That’ll teach ’em.

              I bet giving Fiona guaranteed housing and income so that she did not feel pressure to marry or work at a soul-destroying job would help her a lot, actually.

              1. Pirmann

                Also, we should be advocating for the elite criminals you cited to be punished, not for their stories to be used as evidence as to why other criminal behavior should go unpunished.

          2. Corey

            Oh, wow. You are such a hero, taking a brave stand for the “poor and disadvantaged” on an Internet discussion forum. Hero! I bet you have some really provocative bumper stickers on your car to boot.

            1. John Zelnicker

              Nope, no bumper stickers. And, thanks anyway, but I really don’t want to be your hero.

              [Yves/Lambert – Is this where I can say “Better trolls, please.”?]

              1. Lambert Strether

                Probably not. Once people start throwing “troll” around it never stops and then the accusations grow all over everything like kudzu. That’s why you have your humble moderators, to leave chores like that to.

                1. John Zelnicker

                  Thank you, Lambert, for the guidance. I’ll be glad to leave that to the moderators. And watch out for that kudzu.

    2. Patricia

      “Get your butt to school” I skipped out of a lot during my senior year in high school out of unutterable boredom, had a few detentions and otherwise it was overlooked. But I lived in a small white wealthy community. Good thing I skipped, too—learned more stuff roaming around and managed to graduate without my head exploding. Did me no harm in college. Sometimes truancy is healthier. It might have been for you, considering your attitude.

      But even if it was not good for this kid, such ridiculous punishment simply adds more of the same kind of harm she was already doing to herself, for which she was being punished. Talk about stoooopppiddd.

      And then lets just keep it going and going. Gah

      1. DrZ

        The reason she was ticketed for truancy was because the school misses out on funding if the student skips. See, government teachers using armed (government) cops to enforce stupid, arbitrary rules for the benefit the government. Oh, and the “funding” was extracted from the productive people at the point of a gun by the same government group (cops).

    3. JCC

      It’s hard being perfect, isn’t it? Luckily I never had to carry that burden.

      But then, when I was a kid growing up in NY, skipping school gave you real bragging rights and tickets with crippling fines didn’t exist.

      She was a kid. Kids are irresponsible by nature. Then, when she tries to show some responsibility and handle the debts herself, you fault her again.

      I just wrote a long diatribe on stupid CA laws that fine 16 year old kids $90.00 for jumping on their bikes without a helmet, extremely high auto insurance and registration costs for cars, and social services harassing, fining, and forcing long classes on parenting on parents for the dumbest things imaginable regarding things their kids did.

      Then I smartened up and deleted it.

      I see it all the time here. California is the most constantly-in-your-face place I have ever lived in. The State starts on the young and it’s very expensive if you don’t play by their rules, and especially if you’re poor.

      Kids are easy targets, they’re kids, they’re still learning what it means to be responsible, and they, as well as many of their parents, have no idea how all these new laws on the books that didn’t exist when we were kids can haunt them for the rest of their lives, financially and in other ways.

      Times and laws have changed, kids haven’t. And poor kids from poor families are facing far more obstacles, put in place by the State, growing up than I or my parents ever faced. I believe I can safely say that if these same types of laws and fines existed when I and my siblings hit teenage years, my father would have locked us in our rooms and thrown away the key until we were 21 or volunteered for the Army, whichever came first.

      And then he would have spent all his time bragging to all his friends what responsible and perfect kids we were.

  7. Blurtman

    As a non-colored irresponsible youth, I had accumulated quite a few tickets with escalating fines that resulted in warrants for my arrest. I think the whining liberal elites should come down from their ivory towers and look at the issue from the perspective of an irresponsible automobile owner. I did not get a pass for having expired registration tags because of my race. The fines that I faced did not go away, nor did tickets for continued infractions cease to be issued.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Referee’s whistle stops the game.

      “Name calling! Five-yard penalty and loss of first down!”

      As Yves says, better trolls, please.

  8. Paul Tioxon

    All the more reason to buy an all electric car. They don’t need to pass smog tests, now do they? In 10 or so years, all of this will be a moot point. Maybe Elon Musk will be known as The Great Emancipator for stopping the majority of the air pollution that causes so many health problems.

    Problem solved.

    1. Nelson Lowhim

      Rather have better public trans so no cars are needed. What will we do with all those batteries?

      1. Paul Tioxon

        What will we do without gas stations providing sales tax for roads? I know, still wishing for mass transit to pull right up to your front door. I guess it depends on where you live. If you live in a well established city with mass transit operating for over a century, there are a lot of feeder bus lines that you can walk to, leading to subways, els, regional rail or light rail. The roads will not go away altogether, the mass transit will have to operate on something. I predict a diminishing of the percentage of private car ownership, due to the high cost of roadway repair and yes more mass transit taking people away from the joys of car payments and insurance as even Texans get on the bus. But like everything else, recycling will absorb the batteries. Recycling is developing into a major industry and will continue to grow. Reduce, reuse, recycle. The new eternal verities.

        1. inhibi

          Elon Musk the Great Emancipator?

          What a joke. Clearly you’re not of a technical background if you think electric cars are anything other than a hip Hollywood fad. Show me a completely solar powered electric (because currently, solar power is the only viable completely renewable electric source) car that can seat at least 5, has air conditioning, all the gadgets people “need” these days, at least a 150HP engine, AND has at least a 200 mile range and I’ll eat my own shoe. Until then, electric cars are:

          1). More energy intensive to make than gas powered cars
          2). Come with a 100,000 mile pollution tag due to mining of toxic rare earth metals
          3). Is hyped up by those who think they are morally superior by owning an $80k “green” car, which in 4 years needs a new lithium ion battery (at the cost of $10k). Which 95% of America cant afford.
          4). Uses electricity, which has to be produced, transported, and stored, all which introduce massive deficiencies. Currently, most electricity in America is produced from coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric in that order. All of these are insanely detrimental to the environment.

          I wont get into battery recycling, which once again, you seem to have very little knowledge of. Ill just say that it includes acid washes, chromium/vanadium/lithium precipitates, heavy metal purging, etc.

          In conclusion, anyone who believes that a company that sells state-funded electric sport cars is somehow going to save the planet is beyond deluded, and needs to stop drinking MSM’s cool-aid.

  9. Anon

    In California a $25 failure to “buckle up” ticket actually costs you $175 (first offense; second more). That’s because of all the add-ons for “improving courthouse facilities”, CHP training programs, judgeship perks, etc. It’s not really much different than the scam exposed in Ferguson, MO.

    My local police department actually “hide” in residential areas and ticket folks, with out-of-state plates, for a very slow roll through a stop sign, while ignoring the crazy U-turns on the ridiculously congested shore-front boulevard. Town finances are tough (because of Prop. 13).

  10. Lambert Strether

    Here’s a system that operates rather like a meat grinder.

    On the output side, we have meat that has been processed into the form of money, which goes to “cash-strapped local governments” (see under Great Financial Crash and see generally Neoliberalism).

    On the input side, we have various grades of meat, some deemed more suitable for the grinder than others. As it turns out, cuts of meat that are “black” or “poor” are, through a process we call “law enforcement,” disprotionately selected, whether for reasons of taste, or texture, or ease of grinding, or whatever.

    That is the system that is being described. And yet so many wish to focus on the moral proclivities and failings of those who are, to the system, scraps of meat. Odd.

    1. Pirmann

      I like that analogy, Lambert, but the fact remains that the system:

      – did not coerce her to ditch school
      – did not cause her to ignore the fines when they were small, nor cause her to refuse her mother’s assistance
      – did not coerce her to have two babies prior to 25 with no means of supporting them… no license, no job, father(s) not in the picture
      – did not force her to pay for a cellphone, and I’m sure other sundry luxuries, instead of paying her bills

      Again, maybe it’s a bad anecdote to support the issue at hand. But I see this all the time, and it’s not a race issue. Some people, of all races, are just wired to where they cannot get out of their own way. Their life is in a perpetual state of chaos and disorder, a byproduct of poor decision making. I struggle to find sympathy for that.

      1. Alejandro

        Some have referred to gloating as passive arrogance…others have referred to hubris as aggressive arrogance. But isn’t “meta-cognitive” ignorance, i.e., not knowing what you don’t know but thinking you do, a much more insidious form of arrogance? I’m not sure you can ever get an understanding of poverty, “intellectually”…and without an understanding, can you really judge morally or deal effectively with the formally known as – “defining issue of our time”?

        1. clinical wasteman

          Thank you Alejandro! Once you consider how it plays out beyond personal pig-ignorance and becomes policy, that really is the defining issue. Unusual and welcome to see it recognized as such.
          Understanding that ‘coercion’ of one sort or another — slow/sudden/subtle/crass — is normal most of the time in most lives shouldn’t even have to be a matter of direct experience: the slightest shred of imagination or capacity for observation should be enough to convince anyone of that. Are the gloating classes not even fearful enough to think what their lives might be like if something ‘went wrong’? Do so many really believe that they personally earned their relative good luck, or that things will always be that way? Or is there a mismatch between what they believe they believe (eg. when asked by pollsters about the stockade vs. the ducking stool for Welfare Queens) and the way they interact with others in their private life? If it’s the latter, all hail another triumph of Communitarianism.
          Pirmann’s counterfactuals can be split into two kinds: outright falsehood and logical absurdity. It’s the first of those when s/he says ‘nobody coerced Velia Duenas into not paying her traffic fines straight off’. Because that’s exactly what did happen when she was refused a ‘payment plan’ on ToughLove grounds: pay it all now or onto the Wanted list you go. The second kind runs throughout, in the delusion that ‘decisions’ or ‘life choices’ can be retroactive. This may come as news to certain bootstrap-elevated superheroes, but however chastened you might feel about past ‘mistakes’, you can’t simply ‘decide’ to get a job, let alone a ‘life in order’ or an electric car, when the law and the sanctity of Private Property spell out that you are not allowed those things, not now, not ever, nohow.
          ‘Help’ to believe otherwise is a gift from someone who kicks down your door to make sure you get it.
          But the starry-eyed self-delusion of the Motivators and Bootstrappers is way bigger than their battering ram.

          1. Pirmann

            She should have gone on a payment plan with her MOTHER, who had offered to take care of the tickets for her.

            THAT is what responsible people do. “Thanks Mom. It was my mistake, so if you pay for the tickets, I will pay you back.”. That sort of thing.

      2. pretzelattack

        ok, pirm, a cheap burner phone is a “luxury”, when pay phones are very hard to find. meanwhile you assume sundry other “luxuries”–food? paying the electric bill? and you ignore the way the system piles on fees and interest and jacks up the fine. didn’t you claim to be a sanders supporter, or am i confusing you with somebody else?

        1. Pirmann

          I “was” a Sanders supporter, yes. And? Does supporting Sanders contradict advocating for personal responsibility and good decision-making?

          My support for Sanders was due to his stance on: free trade agreements, health care, campaign finance, TBTF banks, etc. Reason being, all of those currently serve as barriers to those who are actually trying.

          The thing is, none of those policies will serve as a substitute for personal responsibility.

          We can provide free health care for all, but unless you put down the cigarettes, the needle, and/or the junk food, it will still be “sick care” for you. We can provide free College, but you still have to attend class, study, and do the work.

          And what I’m saying is, there are many who, even when the system has changed, will still find themselves behind because of their poor decision making. What then?

      3. Lambert Strether

        As I said: “So many wish to focus on the moral proclivities and failings of those who are, to the system, scraps of meat.”

        Thank you for proving my point.

  11. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

    I’m going to throw in with Pirmann here, mostly. A lot of these sad cases – and they are sad – result from continued bad decision making by defendants. That said, courts really do need to take a closer look at what they’re doing to people – and good courts (i.e. ones that aren’t just errand boys sent by grocery clerks) do exactly that. Google “community courts” and “Center For Court Innovation” for further discussion. :-)

    1. Steve in Flyover

      On one hand, people get tickets for making stupid decisions.

      OTOH, I don’t see how trying to financially penalize someone with no money, and/or taking away their ability to make money, is helping anything.

      The reality is that in most of the country, you need a car to be able to function. Nobody has the money/desire to fund a public transportation system big enough to permit door to door transportation for minimum wage people to get to their 24/7/365 jobs.

      A problem that could be solved, except for………

      Bitch about “one poor decision means a lifetime of poverty” all you want. It’s usually not “one poor decision”. It’s almost always a stream of poor decisions over many years. Skin color has nothing to do with it. Neither does education. The only difference is how much money you have access to, to pay for your stupid mistakes, and how quick you run out of money.

      Second, there are enough people who manage to avoid doing stupid stuff to fill all of the open jobs out there. Business has no need to deal with the problems generated by people with poor judgement. And J6Pack has no incentive to help out by spending money from continuously shrinking paychecks, or paying continuously increasing taxes and user fees, to address the problems of the chronically stupid.

      My youngest daughter is Exhibit “A” for this behavior. Her two older sisters aren’t making the same stupid (financial) choices. She would be just as screwed as Velia, if it weren’t for the Bank of Dad. But the Bank of Dad is running out of money and patience. Her decision making is not getting any better as she gets older. Why is her decision making so poor? If I knew, I’d try to fix it. Unfortunately, I never seem to hear about the problems until they have gotten out of control. None of my business, because it’s “her life”…….

      My sympathy reservoir for the poor and downtrodden is drying up. I can only assume that the people singing the same tunes as my youngest (and other people I know/are related to) are there for pretty much the same reasons.

      Let’s take a test, from real life, at one of my former jobs (back in the days when they had these things called “benefits”…….)

      Sick leave accrued at 4-8 hours a month, depending on time in service, up to a maximum of 240 hours.

      Most guys only used it when they were actually sick, and maxed out their accounts, in case of a major accident or injury.

      A significant number burned their sick leave as soon as they accrued it. Which was their right, until………they had a major illness/accident.

      No sick leave accrued = no pay, unless you burned your vacation time. Unfortunately, these same guys usually burned their vacation pay even faster.

      Soon……….the “Donation Cans” started to appear. Asking for money from their fellow employees to help pay the bills, because “They ran out of sick leave/vacation pay”.

      The question? How much would YOU contribute?

    2. Lambert Strether

      Did you read the post?

      In both Los Angeles and San Francisco, whites arrested throughout the city, while Blacks and Latinos are typically arrested in impoverished, low-income neighborhoods. This intense, racialized policing exists despite there being “no documented difference in driving behavior” between whites and nonwhites. Rather, implicit and explicit racial biases “clearly play a role in who is stopped,” according to the report. Studies have shown that whites and many Americans, associate Black people with criminality and perceive them to be more violent and criminal than other races.

      Looks to me like the “bad decision making” is the decision to be born black or brown, and to be poor.

  12. Mark John

    Not to mention that fees, fines, tolls, etc. are some of the most regressive methods of state revenue collections, as a fine, say, of $500 hits someone that makes $20,000 a year a lot harder than someone who clears $1,000,000. This is not just an abuse but an absolute perversion of state revenue collection and further proof of the rancid corruption of the Establishment.

      1. Mark John

        Just an outright perversion. I wonder if it would be possible to get a ballot measure going outlawing traffic fines in CA?

  13. Steve in Flyover

    Take it from a leadfoot of long-standing, who has worked on second shift for many years…….ticket writing is not a uniquely minority problem.

    Out here in Flyover, ticket writing is the defacto “highway use” tax, since nobody in government wants to raise income or property taxes on people who vote.

    Doesn’t matter what color you are, unless you are referring to is the lack of “green”. If minorities are “targeted”, it’s because they are more likely to be driving old POS cars, with no insurance.

    You want to pizz off the cops? Have the correct paperwork in the car. Don’t EVER have any drugs in the car, if you gotta carry booze or guns, carry them in closed containers in the trunk. Don’t be driving the car like you just stole it.

    And as much as you may be tempted, look at the big picture, and try not to be an a-hole. He can create a helluva a lot more problems for you, than you can for him.

    The fantasy is that cops are public servants. The reality is that cops are to be avoided in the normal scheme of things. He’s looking for a reason to zap you. Avoid giving him one.

    1. pretzelattack

      you can’t avoid being black, or, if you’re poor, driving a clunker. these characteristics are cop magnets.

  14. Uahsenaa

    I’m rather dumbfounded by how incapable some are of understanding what the life of the working poor is like. Sure, you may be able to merely survive on $15k a year (year’s earnings at minimum wage), if you’re single… and you have no debt… and you own your car outright… and you have no health issues… and your junker never needs any repairs… and, basically, nothing goes wrong ever. Most working poor have more than one job, and so have no free time whatsoever. They don’t show up to court dates, because if they miss a day of work, they’ll never make the payment needed to keep the lights on. God forbid you have any dependents, kids or elderly/disabled parents, because you’ll never keep your head above water. The neighborhood you live in is likely terrible, or if it’s not terrible, you don’t live near anything, making your commutes and drives to acquire basic necessities a huge burden. You’re exhausted ALL THE TIME, and you can’t think clearly about the vortex of serious, mutually exclusive issues you need to juggle just to make sure the days pass without incident. When some minor incident does occur, EVERYTHING crashes, not just that one issue. The cascade effect of even a minor infraction hits the working poor much harder than anyone else.

    In other words, your life sucks, and its not made any better by being regularly afflicted with the comfortable, who cannot even dream of what it’s like to have to go hungry, so that your kids can have a proper meal, or to have to choose between a tank of gas and keeping the water on.

    But don’t take my word for it.

    1. clinical wasteman

      Exactly, Uahsenaa (and Lambert, passim). And the gloating cluelessness of the (temporarily?) comfortable is more than just an insult-to-injury additive: from neighborhood level upwards, it’s what motivates them to manage the world to keep things that way. It’s disgusting that so many seem to enjoy administering punishment (at arm’s length, naturally), but even worse that they still have the power to do so.

      1. Anonymous

        I think one has to be blind not to see consistently bad decisions contributing to the problems of poverty. My opinion is that, if you look closely enough, you find either trauma or neglect in the backgrounds of lots of seemingly snakebit people. Once a child becomes convinced that their needs are not going to be met by the parent, they lose the ability to accept help, which is one of the characteristics Pirmann noted in the young woman above. Trauma, whether physical, sexual, or emotional, induces a dreamlike condition–‘Traum’ is German for dream– that pulls people along with a logic all its own, towards vague and inexplicit goals that one would never choose in a waking state.

  15. Medbh

    I agree that fines have a disproportionate impact on poor people. If we’re going to have laws, then it makes sense to have consequences feel equitable.

    On the other hand, I don’t know what to do with the people who are being reckless and refuse to cooperate with appropriate laws/rules. I was in a long term relationship with someone who was Native American. He eventually lost his license due to speeding, running red lights, driving drunk, and driving with a suspended license. At one point, he was driving without a license in order to get to work (we lived in the country), so from the standpoint he was stuck in the car/job dilemma, and eventually ended up in jail.

    But I can’t ignore all the crap that he did that lead to losing his license either. He was a reckless, horrible driver and completely ignored the rules of the road. He once passed another car while speeding on a blind curve due to a temper meltdown. It was purely a matter of time before he hurt someone. Every time he got pulled over he complained that he was being targeted, which seemed unlikely as you couldn’t even see his race if he was caught on radar on the interstate.

    The current practice is unfair, but being poor shouldn’t exempt one from safety or quality of life laws. The system we have now isn’t working, but I’m sympathetic to the frustration others have expressed about those who refuse to consider the impact of their decisions on others and act like they can do whatever they’d like. Money, race, and personal choices all matter, and a fair system would account for them all, although I don’t know how that alternative could be structured.

    1. Uahsenaa

      This is precisely why you have a broadly based, comprehensive social safety net, which in the US in particular has been eroded over the years. If basic needs like housing, food, warmth, transportation, job, etc. would persist regardless of things like criminal history, then you can punish people for infractions without it ruining their lives. Also, people whose needs are met and can take care of themselves generally make far fewer terrible choices, so there’s a positive knockback effect.

      But what we have now is an elaborate boondoggle in which even the crappy social services we do have require drug tests and surveillance and a whole host of intrusive BS that makes the stress of being poor all that much worse. In Denmark, not only is college free, you get a stipend for being a student. In the US, we load our young people down with tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Our whole system seems hell bent on making even the lives of those who are trying to get ahead completely miserable.

  16. Down2long

    I have had more than my share of time in Traffic Court (I was boycotting the injustice system after the banks kept pulling foreclosure scams on me, and Chase was allowed to foreclosed my paid up loan).So my fix it tickets went so far as to cause my DL license to be suspended. Stupid, I know, when I could just pay a $25 fee, but I couldn’t face these. Crooked judges anymore.

    Every day in LA’S 10+ floor traffic building, which is completely devoted to traffic, subway,cand parking violations. If is a giant maw that must be fed to self-sustain, not to mention the $300 M plus it throws into the general fund.

    4 courtrooms, twice A day, average fine in excess of $1k at least 60 persons each session, average fine $1k. I would be one of two white people each session I attended (four over the last 4 yearx(The state Assembly voted to triple all fines, so when the judge sets bail, or the fine _ say $200, when you go to pay, it’s triple the number.These are the just the arraignment hearings, and you will likely have to post bail If you elect to come back for trial.

    In one case I was arrested for an illegal left turn during a prohibited period. It was in a poor neighborhood. The letters on the sign were so small, and the placement impossible to see. I was stopped by a subway cop, who was out running up his quota.

    I did some research, found the letters must be 4 inches tall. Got a big ladder and measured the letters _ only 2 inches and not bold face enough. I made a strong case with lots of photos and got my case dismissed. Sadly, the hard to read signs are still up in poor neighborhoods, arrests are still being made. The signs in the better part of town are regulation _ 4 inch fall letters, bold face. Curious, no?

    The judges can be nasty _ I got a judge pro team (temporary) and in three instances she reduced my fines by at least half – and she did the same for almost everyone except egregious offenders.

    I got a nasty Latino judge who told the court that he never reduces fines for hardship, but you are welcome to work off part of it with community service at $10 an hour. (Part of it must be paid in cash.). For an average ticket that means more than 90 hours of essentially unpaid labor every weekend, 8 hrs a day – six weekends. Some of these are for not paying the subway fare.

    When Chase’s receiver let my building they had taken over get so bad that I as titleholder was hauled into criminal court by the LA attorney for maintenance negligence and blocking the sidewalk with trash, I saw a lot of people who had not paid their subway fare their (not sure how one is a traffic iolation, another same act, gets a criminal charge.

    An expired parking meter is $63 dollars. Doubles in two weeks, triples soon after. That’s our supposedly liberal LA City. Council.

    In the Assembly and our City Council, the reps get free cars.

    The electorate thinks these criminal politicians are on their side – City Council, while non partisan, is almost all Democrat. Assembly is (was) at one point supermajority Democrat.

    The only voice of reason in all of this is Governor Jerry Brown who has proposed roll- backs on the tripling of fines, or forgiveness of parts, because many poor people cannot afford the fines, can’t get a job that requires driving to a job, and thus no way to earn the money to pay back the greedy parasitical politician’s fines. Brown has also stood up to the Legislature and vetoed bills that seek expand what is criminalized (and of course, the resulttant fees and fines that flow to governemnf.)

    He is the only voice of reason in a state that sees everyonea as a mark, but, which, sadly, disproportionately affects the poor because these fines are a much higher percentage of their income

  17. Britt Gagel

    Though communities of color may not use the terms environmental racism or environmental justice, they’re increasingly aware of how they’re being impacted.

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