I don’t know about you, but through the years I’ve received my share of traffic tickets and parking citations. Minor stuff overall, seventy dollars here, a hundred bucks there, a couple hundred smackeroos if caught in the wrong speed trap.
Sometimes the cost made me say ouch. But like most folks I just pay the tickets. And try to slow down.
But if you are poor, struggling, climbing the ladder from one of the bottom rungs?
Different story. And a speed trap set up by your local police or the state troopers, then, has a much different punch to it.
Could traffic tickets be instruments of tyranny?
Well, the $150 some of us can pay with a mere wince another simply cannot pay, or can only pay at the expense of a child’s supper, or replacing a balding tire on the car, or . . . worse.
And those who cannot pay, despairingly, often shirk the “duties” they cannot perform. Like coming to court to pay the fines they can’t pay. And then they get arrested. And then serve time.
A few more “and thens” and their lives are wrecked. Along with the lives of their children.
Radley Balko tells several such stories in his recent article, “How municipalities in St. Louis, Mo., profit from poverty.” He explains the very human costs of speed traps and other penny ante scofflaw “services” the police inflict all around Ferguson, the scene of last month’s protests and violence.
Balko quotes one observer, who describes the whole system as a trap for the poor, sucking them into a “vortex of despair.”
Stop punishing the working poor with excessive fines. Vanquish the vortex!
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.