When I opened a tab with Radley Balko’s lengthy Washington Post article, How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty, I had some preconceived notions. It’s become increasingly difficult to raise taxes to pay for government programs, so governments are increasingly relying on alternative means to raise funds. In many cases, the burden winds up falling largely on the poor. The classic example here is state lotteries.
The article does cover that territory — it explains how small municipalities around St. Louis fund their governments through fines, court fees, traffic tickets, and so forth. What I didn’t expect was how intimately tied to racism this is. In the present, this manifests itself in white elected officials presiding over white cops squeezing black populations for as much money as they can get, leading to harassment and ultimately alienation. The current circumstances are the result of prior racism. When African Americans started moving to the St. Louis suburbs, whites responded by trying to zone them out:
Instead, developers would create new subdivisions outside a city. White people would move in. As black families moved north and west of the city, these subdivisions would try to keep them out by zoning themselves as single-family housing only. That barred the construction of public and low-income housing.
Because of the way Missouri laws work, the subdivisions incorporated and created tiny towns, towns that were too small to have a self-sustaining tax base. Instead, they use their independent police forces to wring the money out of residents who don’t have the political power to prevent this from happening.
We all observed what’s happen in Ferguson, Missouri with horror. Balko explains the system in which Ferguson exists. It’s a must-read.