By Krystal Franklin, BlackAmericaWeb.com
An order to withdraw all arrest warrants issued in Ferguson, Missouri before December 31, 2014 was announced today.
Municipal Court Judge Donald McCullin, who was appointed in June, also changed the conditions for pretrial release. According to a press release put out by Ferguson, all defendants will be given new court dates with alternative penalties like payment plans or community service.
Those caught for minor traffic violations should be less likely to end up behind bars because of McCullin. Under the new policy, they won’t be arrested but instead will be released on their own recognizance and given another court date.
These moves come after a year of often emotional protests and an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department after racial tensions exploded over the August 2014 shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, who is white.
A grand jury declined to charge Wilson in that case, determining that the shooting was justified. A Justice Department investigation further concluded the shooting did not violate Brown’s civil rights.
Those decisions did little to quell anger on the St. Louis suburb’s streets tied to that incident and others over the years in which some felt police unfairly singled out African-Americans. A separate Justice Department report found many such examples. The report was soon followed by the resignation of Ferguson’s then-embattled police Chief Thomas Jackson.
One woman active in the protest movement said she thinks Monday’s actions by McCullin show the demonstrations made a difference.
“As an activist you are going to stay mad because you are not going to always get all that you want,” said Patricia Bynes, the Ferguson Township Democratic committeewoman.
“But because of the pushing and the pressure that protesters put on Ferguson, I am considering it a win and a very big win. It’s an olive branch.”
The ticketing and arrest warrant issue didn’t necessarily go away with the Justice Department report’s release or the new order. An exclusive CNNMoney analysis earlier this month found the city was still pumping out thousands of new arrest warrants and jailing people over minor offenses.
By that point in 2015, the city had already issued more than 2,300 new arrest warrants for the year and thousands of older warrants continued to haunt people — even as neighboring municipalities are wiping out old tickets or warrants entirely.
Brendan Roediger, a Saint Louis University law professor and attorney who has represented some defending themselves against the tickets and warrants, called the new moves a good start but not the endgame many want and deserve.
“It’s real and it’s important,” Roediger said. “They deserve to be given credit for it. I applaud Judge McCullin. It’s meaningful. It’s significant.
“But ultimately, it is not the solution. (City officials) may do some good things out of pressure, but without a system that creates full-time professional courts, there isn’t a system that is sustainable and fair across the board.”
Ferguson’s Municipal Court is one of 83 part-time courts across St. Louis County. Too many of those courts, Roediger said, have engaged in similar practices that have disproportionately and unfairly affected the poor and people of color.
Do you think tossing the arrest warrants are a move in the right direction?