The blacker a city is, the more it fines its residents (especially black ones)

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It’s time to disarm patrol units in law enforcement agencies and enact hiring preferences for locals with MSW training.


“We just need a flat tax across the board to fund everything!” says every well-enough-off middle class white guy who doesn’t understand scale (or does and is a complete asshole).


John Oliver had a bit on fees and how they can get out of control fast. Like even a $150 fee ended up being much more than that after penalties.

I have had trouble paying shit on time - almost - for the taxes and trouble I get into. If I was much poorer it would be a severe strain.

I am not saying people shouldn’t pay fines for breaking the law, but a penalty free payment option for people who need it I think should be a common-sense, fact based reason for updating the laws.


I believe the causation is more complex than “That’s Racist!”.

From the article:

Many municipalities that greatly rely on fines and forfeits for revenue have an unusually large African American population. But not all of them do. Race does not fully explain why certain cities use fines to fund the government.

In my personal experience, many Illinois cities use fines generated by intensive policing to substitute for declining tax revenue, primarily because civil and criminal fine collection is a more politically acceptable way to shore up revenue. Voters (of all colors) will react negatively to increases in property tax and sales tax, but are more accepting of aggressive ticketing/fines, with the perception that all you have to do to reduce your personal tax burden is scrupulously obey the law.

I’m not saying fines do not have “disparate impact” and are not implicitly racist; It’s much easier to stay within the law when you are white, wealthy, and can avoid neighborhoods flooded with revenue-extracting police presence.

For example, my suburban friends avoid traveling further into the city of Chicago than the outermost edges, because Chicago Police and the outsourced private parking enforcers have a habit of ticketing outsider cars for “No City Sticker Displayed”. They care not that the car is registered in a suburb that doesn’t use stickers, they just write the tickets and let the owner deal with clearing it up at court.

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Not on Boing Boing it’s not.

What’s baffling me is, I can’t find any way to make the data linked support the thesis at all. It’s simply not designed to break out the “top 50 cities,” nor do the authors distinguish whether that means incorporated cities or SMSA or some other definition. I’m sure there’s some “The blacker a city is” button, but I can’t find any way to make the data support the thesis.


The EFFECT is racist, regardless of whether the system was put in place with that goal in mind.


I don’t really see where either Cory’s summary or the source article stated that racism was the cause per se. The source article hinted that racism was a factor with certain findings, such as “Given this evidence, it seems likely that police officers often fine African Americans at higher rates, even if Black people do not commit more infractions,” but the racism link there just seems like a natural conclusion when other factors such as poverty are shown not to be the cause. Most of the terminology used in the article just referenced relationships in the data though. I’m guessing people reading these results will assume that racism is the stated cause but the article seems really good at not stating the thesis that racism is the primary cause.


The quoted language presumes that racism is a cause. Whether it’s the only cause isn’t relevant.


Which is why everyone needs to adopt the Finnish Day-Fine system for penalties.



The term “white supremacy” should be used because it illuminates how the entire structure of American society diminishes and victimizes people of color almost as a default setting. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” is a good place to start if you’re a white person who thinks white supremacy ended with the fall of the South.


Are you black? I had gathered you’re not. So if not, why are you (yet again) making this all about you? I’m tempted to flag your comment as off-topic. It’s almost like you’re trying to derail discussion of systemic racism targeted at black people. The post is about excessive leverage of penalties on citizens living in largely black areas, and not the much more general topic of just how fines should be repayable.


day-fines wouldn’t really address the problem. most of the fines in these cases would likely be considered petty fines, not day-fines.

day-fines are for jailable offenses, and they sound pretty if-y to me. they basically are a way for people to pay their way out of jail. ( one day of income for one day in jail. )

this is wrong for similar reasons a flat tax is wrong. if you are well-off, a day of labor is negligible ( heck, cash-out one of those fancy paid sick days. ) if you are poor, a day of labor can mean keeping a roof over your head.

more to the point as @milliefink and @PeaceLove say – it doesn’t address the link between fines and race.

one way to see that this furthers white supremacy is that, unpaid fines in some cases do lead to jail, jail creates “a record”, and people’s records are used against them as justification for harsher punishments later.

while other factors may also be at play with fines, taken together with the rest of the justice system – harsher, longer penalties for poc, “broken-windows” policies focusing on black neighborhoods, disenfranchisement of felons – the system as a whole needs some pretty radical changes.


Day-fine (as in 1/365 of taxable income) does have all the marks of ‘not working’ up front (but not out back?,) and make me worry about who’s making millefink’s cold-press coffee. Love that priceonomics vignette just enough, though; the Ferguson drop-in about fines for calling yourself Mike when docs say Michael bring back the depth when the poverty survey comes out thin.

Cue the state ads: “If you want to be a crazy-rich minority this summer, visit [Jiangsu|Oklahoma|Curacao|Gibraltar] and look over our fees.”

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Well, I don’t think I disliked it quite as much as you can do it, but it does make me feel better soon, and I think I can make it up to you and your family and friends. This is a great day at work, and I think I make it that way because there are so many things I want. My mobile is a good time for me to say that we are not really going anywhere tonight, though I would have been all over the streets of London if not for that first time I met the man in Ferguson.

Cheers !


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I am not derailing anything. This story is about racism through the use of municipal violation fees and fines.

(from the article) Their conclusion: the larger the proportion of black people in a city, the more likely it is to rely on fines (rather than property, sales and income taxes) to fund its operations; and in those cities, the black residents disproportionately pay those fines.

Because the African American population has a higher poverty rate and lower median incomes than the national average, one might expect a correlation between poverty levels and revenues from fines. If this were the case, it would be unclear whether excessive fining is a racial problem or a socioeconomic one. But the data suggests that this is not so.

Race is certainly a factor in this, but per the article, it isn’t conclusive this is intentional targeting of race, vs targeting the poor (which will unfortunately affect blacks disproportionately). At least not in every city. The poorest areas aren’t going to make as much money from property and income tax, because the people don’t own a lot of property, and their taxes are going to be too low based on income. Thus they fill the gaps with fees.

So it isn’t derailing anything to say that the current fee system in many places has rather outrageous penalties on people unable to pay fines, snow balling something like a traffic ticket into a warrant, a towed car, and/or jail time - resulting in a lost job and/or added penalties onto a fee they already can’t pay.

My suggestion of creating an interest free, penalty free fee payment system would ease the burden on all the poor - including black people.

My anecdotal inclusion of my own experiences isn’t made to derail anything or take away from anyone, it helps illustrate that this issue is bigger than just black people. Whether we like it or not, most people only care about things that affect themselves and their small social networks - or certain larger issues they take up the banner for. Framing it solely as a black problem is going to make a certain percentage of people tune it right on out.

The overall topic of the problem over municipal fees affects a lot of people and the more you get people to care about it the more likely maybe something will be done about it. I mean changing the fee system is a tangible, realistic thing, vs the impossible task of ending racism. And as I mentioned, I enjoyed the John Oliver piece on this, which didn’t ignore the racism aspect, but also pointed out the issue broadly unfairly affects the poor.

And I do acknowledge that if blacks are being unfairly targeted, this won’t stop that. But at the very least it would aid in easing SOME of the burden, as there would be less people getting dog piled by added fines or warrants for not paying.

Finally, there is more than one way to look at and a approach an issue. Issues such as this have many facets one can discuss, including systemic racism. Just because one doesn’t see an issue the same way you do, or has a different point of view, doesn’t necessarily make them wrong - just different.

John Oliver piece for reference:


“We just need a flat tax across the board to fund everything!” says every well-enough-off middle class white guy who doesn’t understand scale (or does and is a complete asshole).

I used to think these guys might be rube enough to understand the idea of a flat transaction tax before they break out in poor-brown-hating hives. But fairness, liberty, and simplicity are not motivators for Bible-Belt libertarians. Fraud, theft, the police state, and the scintillating prose of Ayn Rand, however…