Published in St. Louis American-October 23, 2016
Sometimes we get to see the demands from our protests lead to tangible outcomes, to receive the fruits of our labor. It can happen when our racial justice movement stays focused and actually fights until there’s a victory. That is exactly what has happened in the fight for municipal court reform and Jennings is the first to have to cough up millions of dollars in reparations.
The historic settlement of $4.7 million affecting nearly 2000 citizens was won back in the summer but it’s been challenging to get the good news to the potential plaintiffs. That’s why I’m asking my St. Louis American readers to help those wronged by the City of Jennings get their compensation.
In the aftermath of Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson, the world was let in on a not-so-secret super exploitation of black citizens by municipal courts. The racist conspiracy of police departments and courts to generate revenue for city operating budgets created modern day debtors prisons. Tens of thousands of mainly African Americans were (are) caught up in the well-planned and executed trap that has been deemed immoral, unethical, illegal and unconstitutional.
The practice of jailing people who can’t pay the fine is in violation of not only Missouri statute but the U.S. Constitution. These rampant illegalities went on unchecked by Attorney General Chris Koster who now wants to be your Governor as well as municipal judges, state and local lawmakers. So much for upholding the law.
The Jennings Police Department has a notorious reputation and history of racial profiling. Black drivers often circumvent the city to avoid confrontations with the police and the inevitable legal troubles that come with it. Police brutality can also come with. Worse, you can end up dead like Charles Anthony Chatman Jr., a young, black man jailed for outstanding traffic warrants in 2013.
And while you—or someone you know—may have tangled with the Jennings cops and courts at some point, this recent settlement is particular in terms of time span and citations.
Between 2010 and 2015, citizens were arrested for traffic violations and jailed for not being able to pay the court fines and fees. Collectively, they spent 8300 days in jail; some spent up to 67 days in the Jennings hell hole. There were subjected to inhumane and unsafe conditions from holding cells covered with feces, blood and other body fluids to denial of medical treatment. Detainees were also deprived of proper hygiene and nutrition.
These poor souls need to be compensated for their experiences but no amount of money can truly satisfy the degradation they suffered or the emotional and financial hardships their families suffered.
I am going to simplify the settlement arrangements which was originally filed by ArchCity Defenders, Equal Justice Under Law and the St. Louis University Law School against the city of Jennings.
If you were arrested or jailed between 2010 and 2015 for a traffic violation, you may be eligible for compensation. A simple class action settlement form must be completed to join the class action. The form was mailed to the last known address and there are other attempts to locate people. The form can be downloaded at JenningsWarrantFeeSettlement.com where other details about the settlement can be found.
The deadline date of November 24, 2016 is fast approaching so we need to spread the word. Thousands of dollars are at stake and if I had to spend one minute in that Jennings dungeon, I would want every penny I was owed.