The math tells the story:
By December of 2014, “over 16,000 people had outstanding arrest warrants that had been issued by the court.” The report makes clear that this refers to individual people, rather than cases (i.e. people with many cases are not being counted multiple times). However, if we do look at the number of cases, the portrait is even starker. In 2013, 32,975 offenses had associated warrants, so that there were 1.5 offenses for every city resident.
This comes from the Department of Justice report on Ferguson, Missouri. While the actual numbers on the street work out somewhat different, since the number of offenses and related warrants aren’t divided equally amongst the population of 21,000, the point remains:
That means that the city of Ferguson quite literally has more crimes than people.
But that just scratches the surface of the problem, because the underlying offenses aren’t all murders and rapes, robbery or drug dealing. They’re mostly petty infractions, where fines and surcharges are imposed that people can’t possibly afford to pay. While you can’t get blood from a stone, you can get a whole bunch of warrants for failure to pay.
As others have noted, the Ferguson courts appear to work as an orchestrated racket to extract money from the poor. The thousands upon thousands of warrants that are issued, according to the DOJ, are “not to protect public safety but rather to facilitate fine collection.” Residents are routinely charged with minor administrative infractions. Most of the arrest warrants stem from traffic violations, but nearly every conceivable human behavior is criminalized. An offense can be found anywhere, including citations for “Manner of Walking in Roadway,” “High Grass and Weeds,” and 14 kinds of parking violation.
This isn’t to say that Ferguson, alone in the United States, should be lawless territory, even if that means houses have grass too high and too many weeds, but that the white administration has leveraged the laws as a revenue stream on the back of the black majority.
The excessive fines and penalty, beyond any rational justification for legitimate purposes, create a second tier of criminal. After all, it’s hardly heinous to have too-tall grass, but it’s far more criminal to have an outstanding arrest warrant against you. And just in case you mow your grass, there is no shortage of laws with which to burden the citizens of Ferguson.
The dystopian absurdity reaches its apotheosis in the deliciously Orwellian transgression “failure to obey.” (Obey what? Simply to obey.) In fact, even if one does obey to the letter, solutions can be found. After Henry Davis was brutally beaten by four Ferguson officers, he found himself charged with “destruction of official property” for bleeding on their uniforms.
Pass enough laws so that everyone is in violation of something, and if not, just make stuff up. Impose high enough fines and penalties to assure that they’re beyond the citizens’ ability to pay. And you’ve got a citizenry comprised of all criminals, all the time.
This complete penetration of policing into everyday life establishes a world of unceasing terror and violence. When everyone is a criminal by default, police are handed an extraordinary amount of discretionary power. “Discretion” may sound like an innocuous or even positive policy, but its effect is to make every single person’s freedom dependent on the mercy of individual officers. There are no more laws, there are only police. The “rule of law,” by which people are supposed to be treated equally according to a consistent set of principles, becomes the “rule of personal whim.”
Despite the unfortunate hyperbole, the thrust of this contention is certainly true. A cop in Ferguson would be hard-pressed to throw a stone at a crowd without hitting someone with an outstanding arrest warrant. After that, he’s largely free to do as he pleases. Arrest the miscreant or not. And if the miscreant gets a good beating, no doubt he deserved it because he was a criminal. If he wasn’t, why would he have an open arrest warrant against him?
When Harvey Silverglate promoted the notion of Three Felonies A Day, the title notion served as a dystopian warning. Ferguson is how it played out in real life, where almost everyone is a criminal because the pigs who ran the joint did so purposefully, to suck black residents dry for their own benefit.
It’s really not terribly hard to see how easily one can bootstrap a book full of local laws prohibiting everything from farting to breathing into a city of criminals with arrest warrants for unpaid fines. All it takes is the will to subjugate that portion of the population you don’t like for the benefit of those in power. And this is what the DoJ found to be the case in Ferguson, Missouri.
But then, it could never happen elsewhere because our government officials are much more caring and benevolent than those of Ferguson. They would never use the system against us. Never.