Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Last Call For Fixing Ferguson

The Justice Department report on Ferguson, Missouri cited not only serious problems with the police, but massive issues with municipal courts using warrants and fines as the city's main source of revenue, preying on the town's black population for money.

This week, the process of repairing that breach of public trust began.

A new municipal judge in Ferguson, Missouri, on Monday ordered sweeping changes to court practices in response to a scathing Justice Department report following the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown a year ago. 
Municipal Court Judge Donald McCullin, appointed in June, ordered that all arrest warrants issued in the city before Dec. 31, 2014 be withdrawn. 
Defendants will receive new court dates along with options for disposing of their cases, such as payment plans or community service. Fines may be commuted for indigent people. 
The changes come five months after the U.S. Department of Justice strongly criticized city leaders in its report, saying the police force and court worked together to exploit people in order to raise revenue. 
The Justice Department specifically said Ferguson's municipal court practices caused significant harm to many people with cases pending as minor municipal code violations turned into multiple arrests, jail time, and payments that exceeded the cost of the original ticket many times over
McCullin, who is black, ordered instead that if an arrest warrant is issued for a minor traffic violation, the defendant will not be incarcerated, but will be released on their own recognizance and given another court date, the city said. 
"These changes should continue the process of restoring confidence in the Court... and giving many residents a fresh start," said McCullin in a statement.

He added that many people who have had drivers licenses suspended will be able to obtain them and start driving again. In the past, the city's director of revenue would suspend a defendant's driver's license solely for failing to appear in court or failing to pay a fine.

Things still have a long way to go in Ferguson and St. Louis County.  Decades of institutionalized racism in the police and municipal court systems have ravaged the place, but at least things are beginning to change for the better.

There's some small measure of hope, at least.

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