Ferguson Residents Challenge "Modern Debtors' Prison Scheme"
Monday marked six months since a white police officer killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting sparked protests over Brown's death and the broader racial divide it came to symbolize. Now, half a year later, a major legal action is taking that divide head-on. On Sunday, more than a dozen St. Louis-area residents filed class-action lawsuits against Ferguson and another suburb, Jennings. The residents accuse local officials of creating a "modern debtors' prison scheme" that targets African Americans with arrests and fines and then locks them up when they cannot pay. A study last year by the ArchCity Defenders found a large part of the revenue for several St. Louis counties comes from fines paid by African-American residents disproportionately targeted for traffic stops and other low-level offenses. In Ferguson, fines and fees were the city's second-largest source of income in fiscal year 2014. Ferguson issued on average nearly three warrants per household last year -- the highest number of warrants in the state, relative to its size. We speak to Michael-John Voss, managing attorney at ArchCity Defenders, one of the groups that has filed a lawsuit against Ferguson and Jennings. We are also joined by Allison Nelson and Herbert Nelson Jr., two of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuits.
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