Michael Brown may have committed a strong-arm robbery prior to his fatal encounter with Officer Darren Wilson. The evidence for that charge is inconclusive. Like many other teenagers, Brown apparently had regrettable taste in popular music (assuming that term encompasses the genre called “rap”) and it’s possible he was attracted to the gangster milieu.
In any case, Brown had no criminal record and no documented gang affiliations. The latter was certainly not true of Darren Wilson, who is part of the enforcement caste of a deeply corrupt and implacably predatory municipal and county political system.
A detailed and well-documented report compiled by Arch City Defenders, a legal advocacy group, describes how courts in Ferguson and other St. Louis suburbs extract “exorbitant amounts of money” through practices that violate the constitutional rights of the communities they supposedly serve. Residents of St. Louis County “reported being jailed for the inability to pay fines, losing jobs and housing, being refused access to the Courts if they were with their children or other family members, and being mistreated by the bailiffs, prosecutors, clerks and judges in the courts,” recounts a white paper published by the group.
There are ninety municipalities in St. Louis County, each with municipal codes that are dutifully enforced by armed, costumed revenue farmers like Darren Wilson. Any violation of a municipal ordinance – such as a speeding ticket or noise ordinance – counts toward revocation of a driver’s license, and potential incarceration, unless the victim of this racket obtains an attorney who files for a “recommendation for disposition.”
Those not able to hire an attorney or pay their fines will “not get the benefit of the amendment,” which means they will be in danger of losing their license and they “still owe the municipality money [they] cannot afford.” In nearly all of the county’s municipalities, indigent defendants are not provided with public defenders. This often means that “unrepresented defendants often enter pleas of guilty without knowing that they have a right to consult with a lawyer.”
Judges in largely black towns such as Ferguson and Florissant are private attorneys or county prosecutors visiting from other cities who are hired by municipal governments for the purpose of revenue extraction. This is why those towns last year harvested $3.5 million in profits from this scam last year. As the report points out, “the amount collected through the municipal courts seems to be inversely proportional to the wealth of the municipality.” By way of illustration, the City of Pine Lawn (pop. 3,300), which is 96 percent black and has a per capita income of $13,000, collected more than $1.7 million in fines and court fees last year. In contrast, the affluent suburb of Chesterfield, which is fifteen times larger than Pine Lawn and has a per capita income of $50,000, brought in $1.2 million in municipal fines during the same period.
Black residents of St. Louis County endure “a kind of low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay without a meaningful inquiry into whether an individual has the means to pay,” observes the report.
The Missouri state government has documented that blacks in that region are disproportionately subject to traffic stops, arrests, and seizures in order to feed this system of institutionalized plunder. In Ferguson, “blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be searched … and twice as likely to be arrested,” despite the fact that police searches of white drivers turn up contraband more frequently than searches of detained black drivers (34 percent of the time, versus 21.7 percent of the time).
“They’re searching to find something wrong,” complained one defendant interviewed for the report. “If you dig deep enough, you’ll always find dirt.” Another described how city officials barged into her home demanding to inspect her files in order to justify a citation for refusing to subscribe to the city’s trash collection service.
People caught in the coils of this system are sometimes “ordered to pay fines that are … triple their monthly income,” concludes the ArchCity Defenders study.
Security footage of Michael Brown apparently assaulting or menacing a much smaller store clerk has left the indelible – and perhaps unreliable – impression that the physically imposing young man was a bully and thug. The documented reality on the ground in Ferguson offers a fascinating variation on the theme of the seen vs. the unseen. Michael Brown may or may not have committed a strong-arm robbery before his fatal encounter with Darren Wilson, but Wilson is employed as a dispenser of officially licensed violence on behalf of a political clique that routinely commits similar offenses.
Whatever we learn about what precipitated the shooting on August 9, we should perceive that incident as a fatal altercation in which an identified gang member shot and killed a young man who may have been a gangster wanna-be.3:34 pm on August 21, 2014 Email William Norman Grigg