New Report Reveals Racial Bias In California’s Traffic Court System

By Tanasia Kenney

Atlanta Black Star

California’s failure-to-pay policy for traffic tickets has resulted in over 4 million suspended drivers’ licenses in recent years. (Photo by RichLegg/Getty Images)

California’s traffic fines are some of the steepest in the country, and a new report shows that the state’s current policies for those unable to pay are disproportionately affecting Blacks and Latinos.

The report, published by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights last week, covers the most recent information on California’s traffic court system and highlights how its policies unfairly impact residents of low-income, nonwhite communities.

The consequences are often harsher for Californians who can’t afford to pay their traffic fines, including license suspension, arrest, jail time, wage garnishment, towing of their vehicles and even job loss, according to the report. In the end, affected drivers are forced to ante up even more cash just for being poor. Meanwhile, those who can afford to pay are let off with a slap on the wrist for the same minor traffic offenses.

“In Bay Area counties, the burden of the current policies fall heavily on people of color,” wrote authors of the new LCCR study, “Paying More for Being Poor: Bias and Disparity in California’s Traffic Court System. “African-American residents are four-to-16 times more likely to be booked into jail on a failure-to-pay-related charge. This rate is higher than the [disproportion] found in initial traffic stops.

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New California Law Aims To Curb Racial Profiling

Activists hailed the law, but police union leaders complained it would create more paperwork.

By The Huffington Post

California police will have to publicly report race and other demographic characteristics of any person stopped by officers under a new law intended to respond to high-profile deaths of unarmed black men and charges of racial profiling.

Activists march silently to protest racial profiling. (Photo by Annette Bernhardt)

Activists march silently to protest racial profiling. (Photo by Annette Bernhardt)

The law… expands the state’s formerly vague definition of racial profiling to include “identity profiling” based on gender, national origin or other characteristics protected against discrimination. The law requires law enforcement agencies to record the racial and identity characteristics of any person stopped or detained…

A recent string of deaths at the hands of police officers — from Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to Freddie Gray in Baltimore, to Eric Garner in New York — sparked unrest and national outcry about the need for police reform, especially in communities of color. Police unions blasted the new law as unnecessary, while reform activists hailed it as a critical tool to analyze police practices.

Lt. Steve James, president of the Long Beach Officers Association and the national trustee for the California Fraternal Order of Police…said the new legislation is “terrible.” He said it would create more paperwork for officers, taking away time on the streets, and seeks to solve a problem he doesn’t believe exists…

Data that the state attorney general already has access to reveals racial disparity in arrests and jailing across the state.  Seventeen percent of arrests and about 25 percent of deaths in custody involve blacks. Young black males are about 25 percent more likely than whites to be jailed in the state…

Protestors march to send the 'stop and frisk' procedure in New York City. (Photo by Seth Wenig)

Protestors march to send the ‘stop and frisk’ procedure in New York City. (Photo by Seth Wenig)

“They’re of course exaggerating about the amount of paperwork that this will produce,” Abdullah said. “But if that were a real consideration for them, then maybe they should only make stops that are really around keeping the community safe rather than then the harassment and intimidation of people of color…”

“For police to say that profiling doesn’t happen so we don’t even need to collect information about it is offensive,” Bibring said. “We give police tremendous authority to stop people, to search them, to use force and potentially to shoot people. And in order to make sure that authority is being used correctly, we need transparency into what they are doing…”

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