A few weeks ago, when the Ferguson, Missouri, protests were well underway, a few crucial facts emerged from the tumult.
A graph showed that Ferguson led the state — by a wide margin — in arrests per capita.
While it’s true that Ferguson could be that much more violent and criminal than every other city in the state, somehow that possibility doesn’t seem very plausible.
When we learned that “86 percent of stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests were of black people — despite the fact that police officers were far less likely to find contraband on black drivers (22 percent versus 34 percent of whites)” well, the whole thing stank of something other than a mere crime problem.
And, of course, a “war on drugs” problem.
Another fact, from the same source: “Ferguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees; for some surrounding towns it approaches 50 percent.”
No way to run a government. Journalists and activists call such regimes “for-profit policing,” and cite the rise in civil forfeiture practices as encouraging and solidifying the method.
But “for-profit” is a bit of a misnomer.
It’s more like rapine (an old word you might most often see paired with “pillage”) than “for-profit.” It’s a looting system, while “for-profit” suggests selling a service freely on the market and earning rewards for filling consumer needs. Ferguson basically engages in shaking down a population of people, repeatedly profiling and harassing them, extracting as much of their wealth as can be had — Frédéric Bastiat’s “legal plunder” comes to mind — and leaves them to protest, later.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.