If you want to understand the events in Ferguson, MO, you must run – don’t walk – to Amazon.com and purchase a copy of “Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.” Buy hardback, paperback, or e-book but buy it.
PBS released a video of the book -- here's the link.
Why? Because what is happening in St. Louis County, including Ferguson, is slavery by another name.
Go below the link for the details and be warned -- this diary violates the Kos rules on the length of quoted material. So sue me.
Here’s what the book is about. In 1873, “Reconstruction” ended with the withdrawal of federal troops and federal oversight from the states of the Confederacy. Whites in these states responded over the following years by establishing the “Black Codes” and a system of debt peonage and servitude that established an evil system of black servitude that was worse than slavery and that lasted until well after World War II.
This is how the system worked. Southern legislatures passed laws establishing such crimes as vagrancy, cursing in public, and violation of a labor contract. These laws were enforced by local “justices of the peace” (JP) – local citizens with no legal training, appointed to their positions because they were friends or relatives of powerful whites. Here’s an example.
• A black man walking from his home or from his place of employment could be stopped by any white man and challenged as to where he was going, or, if he had permission from his employer to be absent from his place of employment. Invariably, the black man was hauled before a JP and fined, say, $6.00 for “vagrancy.”
• Unable to pay the fine, he was slapped in jail where he was charged a few dollars for court costs, meals in jail, and the like, all of which drove his fine up to $25 or more.
• The black man was unable to pay the increasing fine, so, up stepped a local white man who paid the fine in exchange for the black man being bound to work for the white man for a year or more.
• The black man was then taken to a coal mine, pine forest, cotton plantation, mill of some kind, or any other place that needed cheap labor.
• There, the black man – and many others caught in the same trap – were, essentially, enslaved. Actually, their treatment was worse than that under slavery because slaves cost hundreds of dollars and had substantial economic value. Blacks enslaved in the debt peonage system had no value – if they were beaten to death, their death was no big loss because, after all, they had cost only a few dollars.
Here’s a description from the book:
Instead of thousands of true thieves and thugs drawn into the system over decades, the records demonstrate the capture and imprisonment of thousands of random indigent citizens, almost always under the thinnest chimera of probable cause or judicial process. The total number of workers caught in this net had to have totaled more than a hundred thousand and perhaps more than twice that figure. Instead of evidence showing black crime waves, the original records of county jails indicated thousands of arrests for inconsequential charges or for violations of laws specifically written to intimidate blacks—changing employers without permission, vagrancy, riding freight cars without a ticket, engaging in sexual activity— or loud talk—with white women. Repeatedly, the timing and scale of surges in arrests appeared more attuned to rises and dips in the need for cheap labor than any demonstrable acts of crime. Hundreds of forced labor camps came to exist, scattered throughout the South—operated by state and county governments, large corporations, small-time entrepreneurs, and provincial farmers. These bulging slave centers became a primary weapon of suppression of black aspirations. Where mob violence or the Ku Klux Klan terrorized black citizens periodically, the return of forced labor as a fixture in black life ground pervasively into the daily lives of far more African Americans. And the record is replete with episodes in which public leaders faced a true choice between a path toward complete racial repression or some degree of modest civil equality, and emphatically chose the former. These were not unavoidable events, driven by invisible forces of tradition and history.So, you ask, WTF does this have to do with Ferguson? Read on.
By 1900, the South’s judicial system had been wholly reconfigured to make one of its primary purposes the coercion of African Americans to comply with the social customs and labor demands of whites. It was not coincidental that 1901 also marked the final full disenfranchisement of nearly all blacks throughout the South. Sentences were handed down by provincial judges, local mayors, and justices of the peace—often men in the employ of the white business owners who relied on the forced labor produced by the judgments. Dockets and trial records were inconsistently maintained. Attorneys were rarely involved on the side of blacks. Revenues from the neo-slavery poured the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars into the treasuries of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina—where more than 75 percent of the black population in the United States then lived.
. . .
Most ominous was how plainly the record showed that in the face of the rising southern white assault on black independence—even as black leaders increasingly expressed profound despair and hundreds of aching requests for help poured into federal agencies in Washington, D.C.—the vast majority of white Americans, exhausted from the long debates over the role of blacks in U.S. society, conceded that the descendants of slaves in the South would have to accept the end of freedom.
. . .
A world in which the seizure and sale of a black man—even a black child—was viewed as neither criminal nor extraordinary had reemerged.
Millions of blacks lived in that shadow—as forced laborers or their family members, or African Americans in terror of the system’s caprice. The practice would not fully recede from their lives until the dawn of World War II, when profound global forces began to touch the lives of black Americans for the first time since the era of the international abolition movement a century earlier, prior to the Civil War.
In the St. Louis area is a group of attorneys calling themselves the ArchCity Defenders (the name comes from the St. Louis Arch) has published the results of their investigation into the arrest and trial procedures in St. Louis County and its various municipalities.
Here's the LA Times reporton what they found.
According to the group's recent report on the municipal court system in St. Louis County, the Ferguson court is a "chronic offender" in legal and economic harassment of its residents. There's not much of a secret why: the municipality collects some $2.6 million a year in fines and court fees, typically from small-scale infractions like traffic violations. This is the second-largest source of income for that small, fiscally-strapped municipality.Got it? In Ferguson, MO, blacks are stopped for minimal or bullshit violations. They are issued a ticket and a summons to appear in court – but the court doors are locked a few minutes before the session begins. If you don’t show up before the doors are locked, a warrant is issued for your arrest and your fine goes up and up and up.
And racial profiling appears to be the rule. In Ferguson, "86% of vehicle stops involved a black motorist, although blacks make up just 67% of the population," the report states. "After being stopped in Ferguson, blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be searched (12.1% vs. 7.9%) and twice as likely to be arrested." But those searches result in the discovery of contraband at a much lower rate than searches of whites.
Once the process begins, the system begins to resemble the no-exit debtors' prisons of yore. "Clients reported being jailed for the inability to pay fines, losing jobs and housing as a result of the incarceration, being refused access to the Courts if they were with their children or other family members....
"By disproportionately stopping, charging, and fining the poor and minorities, by closing the Courts to the public, and by incarcerating people for the failure to pay fines, these policies unintentionally push the poor further into poverty, prevent the homeless from accessing the housing, treatment, and jobs they so desperately need to regain stability in their lives, and violate the Constitution." And they increase suspicion and disrespect for the system.
Tabarrok points to the report's observation that the Ferguson court processed the equivalent of three warrants and $312 in fines per household in 2013.
"You don't get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate," he notes. "You get numbers like this from [B.S.] arrests for jaywalking" and what the report calls "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."
There is not a dime’s worth of difference between the proto-slavery established in the South after Reconstruction and the actions of the Ferguson, MO, cops and judges.