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                                     News, commentary, opinion on politics, government, books, social trends, American life, travel, cycling, books, other stuff

                                           News, commentary, opinion on politics, government, books, social trends, American life, travel, cycling, books, other stuff

It is not the killing of Michael Brown, in itself, unfortunate as it was, that is the main issue. (Even if you believe the officer was right, the tragedy of the death of a young man remains.)

It is not racial prejudice and lack of job opportunities.

It is not whether someone is "polite" and cooperative when stopped by police.

It is not whether black people hold themselves back by not getting more education and training for what jobs there are.

The issue is social repression in the form of fines, fees and jail time.

This is a national issue writ large by the killing of Michael Brown.

Ferguson, Missouri, wrote 30,000 arrest warrants in a town of 20,000 people in 2013. 1.5 warrants for per person. In one year.

This is exceptional in the intensity of police and court involvement in the lives of citizens, but it appears to be part of a pattern in various communities nationwide. The purpose is to raise money to operate the local govt. and to keep the black and otherwise poor population, including whites, under constant police surveillance and court supervision. This, in turn, raises more money for private contractors in some areas as prisoners are forced to pay fees to cover the "services" of the court and jail system (isn't jail punishment enough?) The fees weigh down on the poor, who find themselves unable to pay them and then are hauled back before the court to be sentenced to jail time (one commentator has labeled this modern day debtors prisons and the description is appropriate).

We have replaced gross discrimination and segregation with a police and court system designed to accomplish the same goals by other means. One side of the debate can say the police and courts are merely enforcing the laws. Underneath, it is a crime being committed by government against citizens.

This crime helps to perpetuate poverty and, after that, force people to turn to criminal activities even if they had not otherwise been inclined to do so. If you cant get a job because youve been arrested and jailed, what are you to do?

We have more people in jail relative to the size of our population that any nation on earth. We exceed South Africa when it was enforcing segregation of the races. This is no accident.

As for Ferguson, the issuance of so many arrest warrants means that the police are in constant, confrontational contact with the community. Almost any person can be arrested at any time, because almost any person on the street has a standing arrest warrant issued over a misdemeanor fine. It is no wonder that the community resents the police and sees them as an occupying force.

Doug Terry, 8.27.14

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