It can be argued that police departments across the country practice a form of legal extortion, in which victimless misdemeanors and infractions are punished with excessively punitive citations. The generation of state and city revenue via Kafkaesque civil and municipal violations is perhaps most apparent in the application of parking tickets, whereby inscrutable, sometimes illegible street signs make well-intentioned motorists increasingly susceptible to fines.
In the city of Los Angeles alone, fine revenue has increased 50% since 2003 and is expected to reach $180 million by 2018. In recent years, many online social media movements have surged in response to this transparently fraudulent urban taxation, with many citizens demanding their local city governments take action against cops filling their ticket “quotas.”
A new bill introduced by Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri may soon push the movement forward. In the wake of the Department of Justice report regarding the police brutality and resulting riots in Ferguson, Missouri, Cleaver wants such unjust ‘policing for profit’ tactics to be considered federal civil liberty violations.
Calling the bill The Fair Justice Act, Cleaver wants any police officer charged with enforcing criminal or traffic laws for the sole purpose of raising revenue to face prison time— for up to five years!
“The time has come to end the practice of using law enforcement as a cash register, a practice that has impacted too many Americans and has disproportionately affected minority and low-income communities,” Representative Cleaver said. “No American should have to face arbitrary police enforcement whose sole purpose is to raise revenue for a town, city, or state.”
This echoes President Barack Obama’s comments following the release of the DOJ report on Ferguson.
“What we saw was that the Ferguson Police Department, in conjunction with the municipality, saw traffic stops, arrests, tickets as a revenue generator, as opposed to serving the community,” the President said. “And that it systematically was biased against African Americans.”
Do you think such a maneuver can withstand the grinding inequities of our legal system? Considering the recent difficulties in getting district attorneys to even prosecute cases of clear police brutality, it’s hard to be optimistic ‘policing for profit’ tickets will be yielding disciplinary action any time soon. But perhaps lawmakers like Cleaver can at least help bring the issue into the limelight.