Abolishing criminal fees and writing off current debt is the only permanent solution to this type of racialized wealth extraction.
After police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, national attention was drawn to the unjust and racist practice of how local governments disproportionately levy criminal and traffic fines and fees on members of Black and Brown communities to generate revenue. Indeed, the subsequent Justice Department investigation and report found that the issues in Ferguson were systemic, and notes that “officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.”
While advocacy organizations and policymakers across the country have since moved forward with fines and fee reform in recent years, we must tell the story like it is — community members were and continue to be ahead of the game. Back in 2009, the Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles County released a report on the pervasive impact of charging fees to the families of young people who were ordered to juvenile detention facilities. They rightly called for the only solution that would provide meaningful relief — the complete abolition of fees.