When the US Department of Justice released its searing report on the systemic racial bias of the Ferguson Police Department and court system, it noted that the St. Louis suburb likely wasn't the only one in the county that bullied residents, particularly minorities, to raise revenue to balance its local budget.
A new story, accompanied by the video above, by the Huffington Post's Emily Kassie, Ryan Reilly, and Mariah Stewart shows the extent that St. Louis County takes advantage of local residents for financial gain. Among the 90 municipalities in St. Louis County, some of which have just a few hundred residents, court fines and fees are often the top or second leading source of revenue, and the money very often comes out of the pockets of black and poor residents.
A 2014 report from Better Together, a St. Louis–based nonprofit, found that municipalities in St. Louis County raised $45 million in fines and fees in 2013. Local governments in the county accounted for 34 percent of all municipal fines and fees statewide, although they made up 11 percent of Missouri's population.
The Huffington Post's video focused on the egregious case of Country Club Hills. There, a 2014 report from ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit that provides legal representation to the poor and homeless in the St. Louis area, found 33,000 outstanding warrants, even though the city had a population of less than 1,300. So for every resident in the municipality, there were nearly 26 outstanding warrants.
Residents complain that the amount of tickets and warrants issued in the county are so extensive that the small courts, some of which are based in residential homes, can't handle the flow of people trying to pay their fines and fees. The Huffington Post found people lining up and waiting for hours outside the Country Club Hills court.
"It's sickening," one resident told the Huffington Post. "Some got to go to work, but you can't go to work because you got to take care of this."
"Some of them might lose their jobs," another resident said.
The video shows that although investigations into St. Louis County's justice system are getting more attention from national media after the August 9 police shooting of Michael Brown, the feelings of distrust among residents have been around for far longer. "I can't tell you what's going on in the mind of a police officer, but in the mind of my clients, they're being pulled over because they're black," Thomas Harvey, executive director and cofounder of ArchCity Defenders, told Vox's Sarah Kliff in August. "They're being pulled over so the city can generate revenue."