Paul Sperry, New York Post, March 27, 2016
As New York moves to decriminalize low-level offenses, arguing enforcement is “rigged against communities of color,” other large cities are coming under pressure from the Justice Department to do the same thing.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch has issued a warning to municipal and state judges across the country that their courts could lose federal funding if they don’t ease up on fines and arrest warrants for minor crimes involving poor offenders, indigent minorities in particular.
In lieu of fines and jail time, Lynch urges the nation’s 6,500 municipal courts to provide an avenue for offenders to perform “community service” or take advantage of “amnesty days,” whereby outstanding arrest warrants are cleared for nominal fees.
Failure to comply with these policies could trigger a Ferguson-style discrimination investigation. Already, Lynch says she’s “evaluating discrimination complaints against several court systems.”
A strongly worded “guidance” letter, written by her civil rights team, warns that a local court policy of enforcing warrants for failure to pay court fines and fees can have an adverse “disparate impact” on African-Americans, who are fined and/or arrested for outstanding warrants at “disproportionate” rates versus whites.
Federal data also show that blacks tend to break both felony and misdemeanor laws at a disproportionate rate. Even if applied evenly across all races and in neutral, color-blind fashion, such policies could be found by Justice to be discriminatory.
“In court systems receiving federal funds, these practices may also violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when they unnecessarily impose disparate harm on the basis of race,” the nine-page letters states.
The administration claims cops and courts conspire to exploit poor blacks to generate city revenue in some kind of shakedown. But data show blacks fail to pay their fines at far greater rates than whites, so why not target whites if cash extortion is the objective?