Lawmakers in St Louis, Missouri raised serious concerns about escalating tensions between police and African American residents at least a year before the shooting death of Michael Brown in the small suburb of Ferguson.
“Tensions have been high because of what the citizens here see as police abuse.” says Michael Voss, the co-founder of Arch City Defenders, a non-profit legal service in St Louis. "I know that our clients feel racially profiled and that their poverty is exploited.”
The Arch City Defenders published a white paper last year detailing issues with racial profiling there. The paper argues it’s a systemic problem.
One of the most obvious data points highlighting the disparity is the amount of traffic stops police make on black people.
Let’s take a look at Ferguson. There are more warrants issued in Ferguson than there are people. Voss says a good majority of these warrants are a result of traffic stops. Black people make up two-thirds of the total driving population, but account for 86 percent of all traffic stops there.
Despite the money Ferguson collects from court fees, officials assert they aren't dependent on them.
"Municipal Court Fines are a product of the penal system," the city's operating budget report for the 2013-2014 fiscal year stated.
"It is not the City's policy to maximize its government finances through the use of the judicial process. Therefore, Court Fines are not considered a targeted revenue source that the City strives to achieve."
So while the public eye might have been on Ferguson over the last two months, here’s a surprise for you: “This is not a Ferguson issue, this is all over the state,” says Voss. In fact just last year the Missouri Attorney General published a study called “the disparity index” to address the public’s concerns about alleged police racial profiling all over the St Louis region.
Here are a few data points we found in the index:
Once labelled The Velvet Hammer, Alice is a muckraking, grime-chasing, crime-stopping investigative producer. She is passionate about justice and interpretive dance.
Connie Fossi-Garcia is an investigative producer passionate about justice, immigration and stories that spark change.