March 5, 2015
The Hon. Gov. Jay Nixon
Jefferson City, MO
The release today of the report of the US Justice Department task force regarding the situation in Ferguson has, I hope, been cause for serious thinking and sober reflection throughout the state of Missouri. There is, however, a quick and decisive remedy at hand for one of the issues raised by the report, a remedy that I hope you might be willing to contemplate. Consider the reaction if you were to give the following speech:
"My fellow citizens. The events of the past few months in Ferguson and elsewhere in Missouri have been trying for many of us. A few days ago, the United States Department of Justice released a report that showed serious patterns of racism within law enforcement and the courts, including large racial disparities in stopping, arresting, and sentencing of offenders. Further, it is now clear, both from the Justice Department report and from reports of news organizations, that many cities and towns within Missouri have been using the police and the courts as a means of raising revenue, rather than for their intended purpose of public safety. And because of these unaddressed patterns of racism within law enforcement, these revenues have been primarily, and unfairly, raised on the backs of minority communities, particularly African-Americans.
"Putting it plainly, this is a perversion of our system of justice and of our way of life. America was founded on a system of taxation with representation as the only legitimate way to raise revenue in a democratic society. Using the police and the courts in this manner leads to a culture that has little respect for the law, both among the public and among those who police us. And it must stop.
"Today, acting under my constitutional authority as Governor, I have therefore issued a blanket clemency for all outstanding fines within the State of Missouri for any and all minor traffic violations – not including DUI. Let me emphasize that this is a clemency, and not a pardon. If you were speeding and got a ticket, you are still guilty, it will still go on your driving record, you will still get points, and it is possible your insurance rates will still go up. However the fines for such offenses have been forgiven with this clemency order. Further, I will be issuing similar clemency orders every month for the rest of my term in office.
"City councils throughout the state that have been relying on their police departments for revenue are therefore put on notice: starting today, your budgets will have to change. From now on, police departments will have to be sized according to the amount of actual crime they need to deal with, instead of the number of motorists they can trap with a radar gun.
"No governor can wipe out decades or even centuries of racial prejudice in our society with an executive order. But we can make sure that stains on the honor of our state are not repeated, by taking steps to rebuild trust in the rule of law."
When problems arise, it is the duty of those in positions of leadership to lead. You have the means at your disposal, Governor, and I hope you will consider using them.
Keith A. Pickering