The excessive division of counties in many U.S. states into separate municipalities; 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. This issue needs to be looked at not just because of the lack of viability that is a built-in feature of these divisions, but also because of how this lack of viability impacts on the distribution of Justice among the citizenry.
The funding of these ever-multiplying townships is a challenge that has resulted in a model of policing that is antagonistic to the security and economic interests of the people who live in them. Many end up relying on revenue essentially generated from oppressive fines which unequally target the already disadvantaged in many of our metropolitan areas. Instead of protecting and serving, police act as the enforcers in a corrupt scheme that focuses on harassing and fining. 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. 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.”
This 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 and social ambitions find a ready and willing ally in the existing prejudices in many places in a historically racist country. A recently concluded investigation of the Ferguson Police Department by the United States Justice Department found the following:
The Governor of Missouri called out the National Guard to effect a state of emergency in anticipation of the response to the report of the grand jury in the Michael Brown killing by that now infamous Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson. What needs to be addressed, in this our country, is the perpetuation of injustice in the parochialism of regressive states like Missouri. A parochialism that victimizes and kills citizens. There is a real and ongoing "state of emergency" in these United States of America. It 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. This state of affairs must end. We need a citizenry educated and empowered to take charge of their political and economic destiny. We need a Justice Department with robust powers to target, expose, and prosecute the wide spread corruption of Justice that oppresses our people. It is time to arm ourselves with the silver bullet of our own heightened political consciousness; so that we shine the daylight of Justice in the exposed faces of the racist power-hungry vampires among us.