Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A State Of Emergency... Parochialism And The Corrupting Of Justice In America

The over-municipalization of counties in many U.S. states, most with their own city hall and police force, is an issue that has gone unaddressed for the most part. It is a development that has taken place 'under the radar' of our political consciousness so to speak. This issue needs to be looked at not just because of the lack of viability that is a built-in feature of this reality, but also because of how this lack of viability impacts on the distribution of Justice among the citizenry.

The funding of these ever-multiplying municipalities is a challenge that has been forced to the back seat in the arena of the political consideration of a not too involved citizenry; most of which is not involved in the critical votes that result in such divisions. The all important question of how to fund these entities are never fully exposed to the inhabitants of these new political entities. Many end up relying on revenue essentially generated from oppressive fines which unequally target the already disadvantaged in many of our metropolitan areas.

A study by the St. Louis nonprofit Better Together, shows how some of these municipalities depend for their economic lives on the misplacement of policing priorities as a result. Former state senator Jeff Smith in a New York Times op-ed points out the following:

Ferguson, Missouri receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees; for some surrounding towns it approaches 50 percent. Municipal reliance on revenue generated from traffic stops adds pressure to make more of them. One town, Sycamore Hills, has stationed a radar-gun-wielding police officer on its 250-foot northbound stretch of Interstate.”

In the same op-ed piece, the former Missouri state senator and New School professor develops on the previous point:

When a metropolitan area is split into dozens of tiny local governments they tend to duplicate each others’ services, which is of course extremely expensive. But raising taxes so that each tiny borough can afford its own police and fire department is a nonstarter, since wealthy residents can always just move one town over. End result: You have police departments that self-fund by handing out tickets. (same thing goes for the so called war on drugs) And thanks to the delightful racial dynamics of U.S. law enforcement, black residents are disproportionately stopped and accosted, even though police in Ferguson are less likely to find contraband when they search black drivers than white drivers.”

The reality described above has unfortunately become a template for police operations in many American municipalities. What is true of places like Ferguson is replicated in almost every state in our Union. The parochial ambitions of many in small town America has led to the continued feeding of the beast of injustice. Their political ambition finds a ready and willing ally in the existing racial animus in many places in this country. The confluence of rabid political ambition perpetuated against a backdrop of economic inviability produces the kind of toxic cultural brew that poisons places like Ferguson. And the result... People are economically stressed, and in some instances killed... So that the few can maintain the political and economic dominance they seek.

Governor Nixon of Missouri is about to call out the National Guard to effect a state of emergency in anticipation of the likely response to the report of the grand jury in the Michael Brown killing by a Ferguson policeman.  What needs to be addressed, in this our country, is the perpetuation of injustice in the parochialism of states like Missouri. A parochialism that victimizes and kills citizens like Mike Brown. The real and ongoing "state of emergency" is one in which we are forced to pay for local governments and their court and police tentacles which are constantly reaching out to threaten our economic lives and our security.

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