African Americans and Latinos in California are more likely than others to lose their driver's licenses because of unpaid tickets and then to be arrested for driving with suspended licenses, according to a report released Monday.
The report, by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, examined U.S. Census Bureau data, records from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and information from 15 police and sheriff's departments in the state to document by race the impact of unpaid traffic fines.
"Individuals who cannot afford to pay an infraction citation are being arrested, jailed and prosecuted, and are losing their licenses and their livelihoods," the report said. "The communities impacted by these policies are disproportionately communities of color."
Black drivers were found to be arrested at higher rates than whites for driving with licenses suspended because of unpaid tickets, the report said. The highest suspension rates in 2014 were found in poor neighborhoods with large percentages of black and Latino residents.
It's not just selective actions like this, but police culture as a whole, even in places like LA and San Francisco.
In Los Angeles County, black people make up 9.2% of the population but accounted for 33% of those arrested for driving with a suspended license from September 2013 to September 2015, the report said.
Whites represent 26.8% the county but accounted for only 14.8% of those arrested at that time for driving with a suspended license. During that time, 85% of 20,000 people arrested by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for driving with suspended licenses were black and Latino, according to the report.
In San Francisco, 5.8% of the population is black, but 48.7% of those arrested for traffic warrants in 2014 and 2015 were African American. Whites make up 41.2% of the city's population but accounted for only 22.7% of the arrests, according to the lawyers' group.
And guess what? It's not just places like Ferguson, Missouri that made money off of traffic ticket fees, fines and warrants.
Monday's report, based on data gathered in the last year, follows anearlier study by the group that found more than 4 million Californians had their licenses suspended for unpaid tickets since 2006. The cost of tickets soared during the state's budget crisis because a variety of fees were added to the fines to pay for state programs.
In response to the earlier report, the state created a traffic ticketamnesty program to make it easier for drivers to get their traffic fines reduced and licenses reinstated. Court leaders also ended requirements that required drivers to pay the tickets before they could contest them.
"While these actions represent significant progress, they fail to adequately address the underlying racial and economic injustices of California's debt collection and license suspensions policies and traffic court practices," the new report said.
What a surprise. The biggest blue state in the nation has one of the biggest problems in police racial bias. I'm very interested to see what California Attorney General Kamala Harris has to say about this, considering she's the prohibitive favorite running for Sen. Babara Boxer's seat in November.
Harris has one ugly mess to clean up before she goes to Washington, that's for damn sure.