Ferguson and the Modern Debtor’s Prison

How does a stop for jaywalking turn into a homicide and how does that turn into an American town essentially coming under military control with snipers, tear gas, and a no-fly zone? We don’t yet know exactly what happened between the two individuals on the day in question but events like this don’t happen without a deeper context. Part of the context is the return of debtor’s prisons that I wrote about in 2012:

Debtor’s prisons are supposed to be illegal in the United States but today poor people who fail to pay even small criminal justice fees are routinely being imprisoned. The problem has gotten worse recently because strapped states have dramatically increased the number of criminal justice fees….Failure to pay criminal justice fees can result in revocation of an individual’s drivers license, arrest and imprisonment. Individuals with revoked licenses who drive (say to work to earn money to pay their fees) and are apprehended can be further fined and imprisoned. Unpaid criminal justice debt also results in damaged credit reports and reduced housing and employment prospects. Furthermore, failure to pay fees can mean a violation of probation and parole terms which makes an individual ineligible for Federal programs such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Family funds and Social Security Income for the elderly and disabled.

Ferguson1new report from Arch City Defenders, a non-profit legal defense organization, shows that the Ferguson municipal courts are a stunning example of these problems:

Ferguson is a city located in northern St. Louis County with 21,203 residents living in 8,192 households. The majority (67%) of
residents are African-American…22% of residents live below the poverty level.

…Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of $2,635,400. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.

You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant “low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.”

If you have money, for example, you can easily get a speeding ticket converted to a non-moving violation. But if you don’t have money it’s often the start of a downward spiral that is hard to pull out of:

For a simple speeding ticket, an attorney is paid $50-$100,
the municipality is paid $150-$200 in fines and court costs, and the
defendant avoids points on his or her license as well as a possible
increase in insurance costs. For simple cases, neither the attorney nor
the defendant must appear in court.

However, if you do not have the ability to hire an attorney or pay
fines, you do not get the benefit of the amendment, you are assessed
points, your license risks suspension and you still owe the municipality
money you cannot afford….If you cannot pay the amount in full, you must appear in court on that night to explain why. If you miss court, a warrant will likely be
issued for your arrest.

People who are arrested on a warrant for failure to appear in court
to pay the fines frequently sit in jail for an extended period. None of the
municipalities has court on a daily basis and some courts meet only
once per month. If you are arrested on a warrant in one of these
jurisdictions and are unable to pay the bond, you may spend as much as
three weeks in jail waiting to see a judge.

Of course, if you are arrested and jailed you will probably lose your job and perhaps also your apartment–all because of a speeding ticket.

As a final outrage, consider this story which ties together Ferguson, the courts, and the arrest of parents, often minority parents, for leaving their kids to play in parks (just as my parents did).

According to local judge Frank Vatterott, 37% of the courts responding to his survey unconstitutionally closed the courts to non-defendants. Defendants are then faced with
the choice of leaving their kids on the parking lot or going into court. As Antonio Morgan described after being denied entry to the court with his children, the decision to leave his kids with a friend resulted in a charge of child endangerment.


So in your libertarian paradise, people can walk slowly in the middle of the street blocking traffic and police should do nothing? And I guess strongarm robberies and assaulting police officers are also "bullshit" that police should ignore because the criminals might be too stupid to think ahead and get child care before their court dates where they might very likely get sent to jail?

You're right, there's a scourge of people indiscriminately casually strolling into traffic and causing major delays all across this beautiful country. No wonder the traffic in LA is so bad.

So you're saying that a cop stopping a guy who was..

1. stoned
2. had just robbed a convenience store
3. was carrying stolen goods,
4. (allegedly) stuck his head into the squad car (and done what?)

... you're saying that cop was acting irrationally.

You and Alex both need to really think hard about that. The shooting itself is not proof that the police are harassing people for minor violations. And the $321/per-home fines is a testament to the prevalence of petty crime and lack of employment.

He was robbing stores while on drugs at 18 years old. That should be inconceivable to any decent person on the PLANET.

Some of what you are saying is wrong or misleading.

The rest does not actually contradict Alex's point.

Alex starts by saying the cop murdered the man.

And then jumps to a discussion on debtors' prisions. Can't blame people for responding to the initial statement.

"Homicide," the word that Alex used, isn't necessarily murder.

The Right sure is defensive about the right of authorities to kill unarmed black men.

Alex does not say "murder". He says "homicide" which is entirely correct, legally and factually. There is zero dispute that the guy is dead or that the cop shot him.

Well, so much for the presumption of innocence for Michael Brown and the African-American citizens of Ferguson and St. Louis county. Apparently, that presumption only applies to "Real Americans," wink, wink.

Poor Alec and Connor Friedersdorf, and Mr. Draper's "Libertarian Moment." I must say reading the blog comment streams on the libertarian web sites has "enlightened" em about how most libertarians feel about police and the tropes in their heads about minority communities.

Homicide is the killing of one person by another person and no one denies that is what happened. Tabarrok doesn't say whether it was justified homicide or criminal homicide.

If a 'bleeding heart libertarian' can make a quick request, I'd caution against letting *any* internet comment thread form the basis of your views about a particular group.

Sherparick, why are you so committed to logical fallacies here?

They found THC in his system. THC stays in your system for as long as 30 days. There's no indication so far that he was stoned at the time.

Just robbed a convenience store? The police didn't release the entire video. If they had, it would have shown that the items were paid for. It is unclear what the shoving incident was about, but the clerk had put his hands on Michael Brown first.

Thieves and liars using character assassination to take attention off of the police.

Link to full vid with payment, please?

"We know that he was involved in the strong-armed robbery of a gas station just minutes before he was stopped by the police and that he and his companion had the stolen goods on them, which the officer may or may not have known about but would have certainly been a point of anxiety for the two of them. Perhaps most damningly of all, a candid (accidentally recorded, in fact) eyewitness account stated just moments after the shooting says that Brown not only fought the cop at his cruiser before trying to run away but was actually charging back at the patrol car when he was finished off." -socialmatter.com

Yes, lets see that proof?

I don't know what a full vid would show.
However, the clerks working the store DID NOT CALL THE POLICE.

We might have to wait a while if there are legal proceedings.

There is quite a bit of what you're asserting here as uncontroversially true to actually be hotly debated or simply incorrect.

2. New video has come out that shows that Michael Brown did, indeed, pay for the cigarillos. When questioned, the store owner could not definitively identify Michael Brown, and said he wasn't sure that the guy in the video was even him. Lastly, the police came to the store without a subpoena but took it's private surveillage footage, anyways.
3. See above. Plus, how do you know goods are stolen if they're across the street in (likely) a paper bag? This seems like a fishy assumption to me. If I were on the same block as a liquor store, say, 200 feet away, and I'm carrying a bag, and happen to be black, and a cop gets a call about stolen goods, the next logical leap required to get to "the cop could therefore have known that this particular black man was carrying stolen goods in that bag" is pretty far.
4. Like you said, allegedly. But the private coroner hired by the Brown family remarked that the bullets that killed Brown were definitely fired "more than 2 feet" but "less than 30 feet" away. A big range, to be sure, but he said definitively "more than 2 feet." How do you get into a close fist to fist fight, then happen to end up more than 2 feet away when shooting at him?

But, even if your versions of 2-3 are correct (which, as I've pointed out, they may not be), how does that give the cop a right to shoot a kid to death? Even if your version of 4 is correct, why do cops carry around tazers and clubs if they're not going to use them to avoid the application of lethal force? Doesn't hold salt.

And, why does having marijuana in his system even matter? Numerous studies have shown that marijuana, contrary to alcohol, actually has a pacifying effect on the user.

Your presentation of the use of force is flawed. If brown started an altercation and then resisted arrest by charging the officer the use of force is justified. Tazers and sticks are not intended for defend your life scenarios.

Unless used heavily; in which case some are made paranoid, and paranoids often try to get you before you get them.


Yeah, but then they're like, "Aw fuck it, Too much effort. You got any Doritos?"

Brown's friend that was with him stated they did indeed steal the cigars. The five page police report is out there. Guess what Brown and his friend were identified and named in the report. Where the fuck are you dumbasses getting the whole they paid for the cigars bit from? Because it's not from Brown's friend that was with him or the police report.


"According to the police report, the 6’ 4”, 292-pound Brown grabbed the worker by his shirt and subsequently pushed him into a display rack. As he headed for the door, Brown doubled back and advanced on the employee, “appearing to intimidate him. Brown then turns back around and walks out of camera view.”

Johnson, police say, will not be charged in connection with the felony robbery, and the report notes that the case has been “exceptionally cleared.” Johnson, who has been interviewed by FBI agents and local police, has admitted to investigators that he and Brown took the Swisher Sweets from the market, according to Freeman Bosley, Johnson’s lawyer."

Over a dozen eyewitnesses state that Brown attacked the officer ran off then double back charging at the officer, refusing to obey commands to stop and surrender. The police officer stated he saw the cigars and knew about the police report and was questioning Brown about the cigars.

Marijuana in numerous studies causes paranoia, mental retardation, schizophrenia, elevates heart rate by several hundred percent and is addictive. These are studies dating back decades done outside the US.

Tazers are not carried by every cop due to liberal outrage of the use of tazers to subdue suspects. Also tazers can kill and they can miss their target or not affect the target at all.

We do not know that the guy was stoned. There's a rumor that he had traces of marijuana in his system-- the full toxicology report report is not back. Marijuana residue takes days to clear out of the body (it is fat soluable) so finding evidence of marijuana in someone is not evidence that they recently toked down. In 2014 this sort of thing should be common knowledge for anyone under 60 who was not sequestered by a religious cult during their wild oats sowing years.

"Robbed a convenience store" is hyperbole. At worst he stole some cigarillos worth about $50. Even that is disputed since the full store video shows him paying for the merchandise.

Re:" The shooting itself is not proof that the police are harassing people for minor violations.

As far as the policeman knew all the guy had done wrong was walk down the middle of the road (which by the way is not something someone who has just stolen something does-- thieves usually skulk away as secretly as possible).

The full store video shows no such thing it shows Brown stealing them and attacking the clerk. Brown's friend that was with him in the store and at the shooting says they stole the cigars.

Don't feed the troll, people.

stoned? um, it is reported (no verified) he had marijuana in his system. know who else had marajuana in his system? Michael Phelps. you know, the guy tha holds the record for olympic metals. The cop was not aware of the shoplifting incident and yes, done what thru the window? that is up for speculation.

Actually the cop was aware of the robbery. Even the police chief admitted that the cop turned around when seeing the cigars. The cop states he doubled back to question Brown about the cigars he saw Brown carrying as he drove away.

Pretty much the same thought process as the cop. Racially profiled, then tried, convicted and executed. Being murdered is what should be inconceivable to any decent person on the PLANET.

"He was robbing stores while on drugs at 18 years old. That should be inconceivable to any decent person on the PLANET."

And this is what is wrong with America. "Should" be inconceivable in some idealist fantasy land. People are broke and it's only getting worse the farther down the food chain you are. People stealing out of necessity as well as for psychotic self-satisfaction isn't something people should die for. I realize that we have cheapened the meaning of human life so immensely in the last couple of decades as to make individual humans look like disposable goods, although overpopulation/population density is a contributing factor sociologically, it is no excuse to run around treating the downtrodden like animals. Has anyone in government ever bothered to ask "WHY" about anything? Why do people more frequently become anti-social or criminal in response to low income urban environments? The fact that we can see it occurring and do nothing about it is a sign that it is the very fabric of the system which is at best detached, cold and objective; and at worst callous, uncaring and malicious. Until we can again learn to love, forgive and repent AS A SOCIETY, within our governments, corporations an d individual lives we are all fucked anyway. We don't need to judge, blame and arm-chair quarterback investigations. We need to get off our asses and go to these places and find out what happened to the social fabric of the communities and figure out what needs to happen to restore them. It will never happen without law enforcement. And it can never happen with law enforcement as long as they are forced to enforce policies that degrade their respect in the low income communities. The drug war must end; In conjunction with the war on terror our low income and urban environments across America have become little second world countries and both of these wars are mere imaginary enemies. We can never have community policing if the communities don't believe in the laws being enforced against them.

An un armed man was shot with his hands in the air while tring to give himself up.

His hands were not in the air nor was he trying to surrender. Over a dozen eyewitnesses have stated that Brown attacked the officer, ran off then taunted the officer and then proceeded to charge at the officer. The officer then commanded Brown to stop and surrender. These dozen eyewitnesses state the police officer acted in self defense.

Are you kidding, nobody? I went to a private, predominately white high school in St. Louis. Some of the girls there shop lifted for fun. The best place to get drugs was from the white kids (they were wealthy so they had money for the good stuff) and most of them had their parents get them out of multiple speeding tickets. Not to mention car wrecks and cheating on SATs (but still getting into a top college). So I'm assuming that you also believe that these white kids weren't 'decent people' either, right? Any person who gets high and shop lifts (robbery is a bit excessive, he was unarmed and stole something that cost less than $50) isn't a 'decent person', regardless of color, right?

"Any person who gets high and shop lifts (robbery is a bit excessive, he was unarmed and stole something that cost less than $50) isn’t a ‘decent person’, regardless of color, right?"

Because of that statement I feel like I'm forced to state a fact. A much higher percentage of poor Africans commit crimes than poor Caucasians. Not one excuse for that is acceptable. Please find a way to accept facts as they are and keep your children away from them or anything of the like.

On top of all the One Sidedness, Check the Records of the History of These United States of America. There has never been a White Caucasian Peace Officer, Cop or Policemen Convicted of (Police LANGO) a so called Good Shoot or Shooting of A Black Man in America. Besides or in Spite of A Limited amount of Civil Rights Cases involving Civil Rights Advocates and Known KKK Law Enforcement Bad in Reverse Perpetrators. The Ferguson Case, if the Cop is Convicted would be A Highly Unlikely Precedent. I wouldn't hold a Breath to long in All likely ness of a Conviction

"1. stoned
2. had just robbed a convenience store
3. was carrying stolen goods,
4. (allegedly) stuck his head into the squad car (and done what?)"

Any proof of this? Of course not. Just assumptions. But let's not allow this to get the way of a good rant on how Michael Brown deserved getting gunned down like the sub-human he's assumed to be.

I don't really think one thing has much to do with the other. I've seen kids in my neighborhood get into it with the cops. One was shot, not fatally and both of them ended up in their 30's before they got out of jail. Angry young men doing stupid things. I think we need to figure out how to make less angry young men.

I'll point out that both of these 18ish boys were white. The video of Brown strongarming the convenience store clerk elevated a shoplift to a robbery because he used violence. Add menacing, assault and whatever a DA could figure out. This kid was not going to college this fall. He was going to prison.

Rick, sorry for your confusion, but they aren't criminals if their actions aren't criminalized.

So, I suppose your "paradise" all parents who have trouble finding childcare should be taken away from their kids to punish them for neglect. Way to fix the neglect!

Are you seriously arguing for the decriminalization of strongarm robbery and assaulting police officers? And with regards to childcare, it's not that they "have trouble", it's just that they're stupid and can't think five seconds ahead which is why they're out there committing crimes in the first place. What do you do with such people? The real takeaway from this is that the criminal justice system is trying everything in its power to fix what is essentially an unsolveable and unmentionable problem: a certain portion of the population is too stupid and feral to co-exist with the rest of us and there's nothing we can do to turn them into productive law-abiding members of society.

rick, stop being an ass.

Let me know when you are ready.

Ditto. Rick your a tool. This police force actively tries to extract resources and generally take advantage of its citizens. It tries to prevent the press from covering it. It uses weapons of war on it citizens. In short, this police for is the school yard bully that everyone hates. Get rid of these clowns.

Either "rick" is a troll or he has a closet at home full of white hoods at home and practices cross-burning on weekends.

Ah, he's just trolling. That much is obvious. No reasonably intelligent, rationale human being living in this country in the 21st century actually thinks like that.

I see zero attempt to address what I said in these comments

Then you didn't look and didn't say much to begi with.

Let's start with the part where you made a strawman claiming anyone ever said violent crime shouldn't be punished. Why did you do that?

You said "they aren't criminals if their actions aren't criminalized" in response to my comment calling out Tabarrok for minimizing strongarm robbery and assaulting police officers. Stop trolling.

"unmentionable problem: a certain portion of the population is too stupid and feral to co-exist with the rest of us"


Code for black people? Fucking racist...

You too are being an ass.

It is thought that 5% of black men have "the warrior gene." If so, reality is racist.

What is this, "show you're a racist" day?

First, the warrior gene correlation is just that - a correlation. There is no direct evidence that it causes antisocial behavior, only that there is a correlation between this behavior and the presence of the 3R allelle.

Second, the correlation is not with aggressive behavior, but with an aggressive response to aggressive behavior - basically a "fight back" response rather than "initiate fight" behavior.

Lastly, this allele is present in 59% of black men, 56% of Chinese men and 34% of Caucasian men. With a relatively insignificant difference between the rate of black and Chinese men, if this gene was a factor, we would see similar social problems in Chinese communities - but we don't because it is not a significant factor.

The significant factors are poverty, lack of education, unemployment and outright racism.

There is no doubt in my mind rick is a racist. Rick, why not be a man and say what you think rather than use coded cowardly messages.

I think you are misreading wikipedia on the warrior gene, misunderstanding genetics, and have a stupidass definition of what a racist is.

Why assume that the entire purpose of a prison (separating the portion of society who cannot live in society) simply MUST be code for racism?

Why assume that the higher rate of violence of certain races (potentially explainable by SCIENCE that we only partially know yet, but will be known eventually for sure) means the observer of this is "racist?"

Is it because you let your cognition be defined by the two party political system?

I think racism should be judged by how people act, not what they think. We don't have all the facts here, but the cop in question sounds like a racist to me.

Come on man. what do you think he means by "they" and "a certain portion of the population". Seriously, its pretty obvious.

@Student, I was once a young student myself and willing to believe that all people were more or less the same.

50 years on this planet has convinced me that this is not the case. Does this make me a racist? If so, there are close to 7 billion of us.

I am not a young student anymore, fyi. its just a play on the etymology of the student t distribution. I thought it was clever, but clearly its not.


Are you talking to me?

"Come on man. what do you think he means by “they” and “a certain portion of the population”. Seriously, its pretty obvious."

I'm not sufficiently destroying rick? Is that it? I have to use two-party system motivated wrong accusations of "racist!" too?

I don't know what is in rick's mind. Nor do I care. Nor does it matter.

But I do know the very purpose of a prison is to separate the people who can't live in society from those who can, or even to create a separate society amenable to the two different groups.

My guess is that the larger percentage of blacks who commit crime make whites think this is a general trait, making enforcement increase, increasing incidents, increasing enforcement, increasing agitation, increasing incidents, etc.

one party, two party, three party.... I dont care. A spade is a spade. It pretty clear to me who "they" and "a certain portion of the population" are. Rick should be a man and say what he feels. LIkewise, i feel he is a racist, so I say so.


The black population was being subjected to oppressive law enforcement long before they were the larger portion that committed crimes. Hmmm... I wonder why there is a legacy of not trusting majority white police forces in majority black communities. The egg came way before the chicken in this case.

So, they do statistically tend to commit more violent crime, but it cannot possibly be caused in part by any genetic differences whatsoever? Inconceivable. Unfathomable.


I think you lack imagination.

I think you are over imaginative. There a minute genetic differences and huge socio-economic differences. So I go there.


I would like to think this is true. But I don't know this, and neither do you, and I don't think wanting something to be true is a sufficient basis.

What is true is that, in general, individual differences swamp group differences. So, in virtually any encounter with an individual, it's foolish to bring preconceived notions about the individual to the table.

But please stop telling me what to think. Especially when there is a decent chance you are wrong.

@ Brian

Fair enough. I will stick to what I think. Out of curiosity though, when referring to bringing preconceived notions to the table when dealing with an individual, are you referring to something like my using a handle of student, and your perception of mean as a young, naive, 20 something?


Touché. Though, as preconceived notions go, it seems pretty innocuous. But hey, now you're not a stranger, and I have updated my priors here. I now think you are a middle aged guy with a penchant for lame statistical comedy. ;- )


haha, fair enough. I am not quite middle aged though, although i feel like it sometimes.

I have an amazing imagination, but for this I don't even need it.

If oh, something like 1% of whites have something akin to what we think is caused by the concept of "the warrior gene" while 5% of blacks have it, it takes almost no imagination to explain the approximately same ratio of violent whites to violent blacks, talking big picture here, as well as the aggregate numbers (~1% at any given time) of blacks incarcerated.

Your assumption that the poverty is driving the crime begs the question. Michael Brown's poverty wasn't the proximate cause of stealing a carton of stogies or jay walking.

"It is thought that 5% of black men have “the warrior gene.” If so, reality is racist."

But what do their brains weigh? And where are they dimpled?

Andrew and rick apparently both collect white hoods. Gee, Andrew, what a bunch of crappie pseudo-science from white supremacist web sites and books. 100 yeas ago the prisons were filled with Irishmen and Italians and others at the bottom of the social order. Further, since the crime rate has fallen across the country by 50% from 1991to the present, contrary to what was being predicted in 1991, a one generation change like that is amazing and probably due to changes in environmental (decline in lead pollution) and cultural factors. I don't think genes have much to do with it. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2012/0109/US-crime-rate-at-lowest-point-in-decades.-Why-America-is-safer-now

Perhaps you should expand your reading to something that can actually get peer reviewed. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201008/the-flynn-effect-and-iq-disparities-among-races-ethnicities-and-nations-

robin- You are familiar with racist code, are you? I hope you can reference an actual Code Book somewhere. Otherwise, you are simply reading your own prejudice into it. Yeah, I'm sure it's not YOUR OWN prejudice, but that of other people you don't understand but nevertheless understand all too well. And while you don't think that blacks are all human scum, you do assume that all references to human scum are about blacks. I won't claim that racism is an illusion, but do you want to claim that the existence of stupid, undomesticated people (of any race) is an illusion?


I am sorry you don't understand the discussion that is happening here. On one side are people apparently claiming that anything other than socioeconomic legacy of oppression to explain a racial difference in crime rates is equivalent to a functional MRI test for racism.

On the other side is some people pointing out that very small differences in a bell curve create large ratios at the tails.

On the third side are those people who are actually racist.

Unfortunately, the first side doesn't understand the difference between sides 2 and 3.


Well put. I think liberals understand this, but it is convenient for them to pretend not to.

Ha, peer reviewed. Funny. You guys aren't even aware when you are doing it.

Anyway, feel free to read this summary and the reference list.


The point is not that I or anyone knows whether MAO-xR is the genetic smoking gun of heritability of aggression, the point is such a thing is rather easily conceivable and certainly does not qualify for what passes as racist these days, which is just a politically motivated hack attack.

Travis, ah I finally get it.

No, I was asking student.

Blanket reply: what logical fallacies are you folks committing? Hint: I see Strawmen, ad hominems, guilt by association, appeal to authority, just for starters.

Hey guys "a certain portion of the population" is responsible for most crime and almost all violent crime. I guess I'm sexist for noting that "certain portion" is men.

"...a certain portion of the population is too stupid and feral to co-exist with the rest of us and there’s nothing we can do to turn them into productive law-abiding members of society."

rich, that is a pretty rough assessment of police officers. I think that you should be a bit more charitable in your assessments.

High five.

Just got done watching the recent high school hoops highlights. Turns out crackers are historically oppressed athletically. And even today it continues as there is video evidence that they get dunked over with some filthy nasty.

No, those should be criminal acts of course-- but not meriting summary execution without trial.

I certainly agree regarding "summary execution without trial", but I also think the police officer has the same right to self-defense as a regular citizen, and my anti-violence position is that everyone has a right to protect themselves from unprovoked violence up to and including deadly force. Those who initiate violence forfeit any rights they might have had.

Rick, serious question, do you really believe that any group pf "regular citizens" would get away with as many homicides as the police do?

Do you believe that "regular citizens" would get the same protection from investigation?


rick's right. and that's the fact, jack.

Except perhaps not to make these angry young men in the first place. It's bad parenting. It's no parenting. It's poverty. It's poor role models. It's the US tendency that no deed go unpunished. I think we're making these kids. And they aren't all black kids. I don't believe that people are inherently evil for the most part. I think the world is making angry young men and we better figure out how to stop.

What real future did Michael Brown have? His high school sucked. His college plans were community college, if he had enough education with his lousy high school to pass a college class. His home town is a blast crater of unemployment. Was there really a future for Michael Brown? Even if he made no mistakes, he was screwed. I see a lot of kids like this. They sure aren't all black. But when you're looking at your life and you don't see a future that's more than flipping burgers for fast food joints and not even getting paid a living wage, that's where we get angry young men. Who can really blame them? In my time it was the 80's and trying to dig yourself out of that hole was damn near impossible too. Some of my friends never did.

It wasn't stupid or feral. It was no jobs. No future you could see. No end to low paying, crappy jobs. Welcome to 2014.

I've had a lot of jobs where if they could have paid me less or treated me worse, they would have. My parents got to be middle class not having near the education I have, working as hard as I have and they actually came up with enough money to retire after working 20 years. This is not the way it goes today.

Why shouldn't that behaviour be criminalized? Hiding behind the children and a not addressing robbery and assault is also being an ass.

You are falling for rick's strawman by combining the Mike Brown issue with the totally different issue to which Alex refers.

What Alex is referring to is that people let their kid go to the park, then they are cited for neglect, then when they can't take their kid into the courtroom they are again cited for neglect, then they are put in prison away from their children.

Why are you doing this by the way?

I'm pretty sure that the cop firing a grenade launcher wasn't doing that due to a riot about childcare contrary to Alex's assessment at the beginning of the article.

Alex links the events and then connects them to childcare, and I'm not buying it.

The recent events could be viewed as two criminal gangs fighting each other while the people in the middle get trampled. Or racism. Or hero cop. Whatever.

But lack of childcare, not so much. The use of law enforcement as a tax collection agency whose purpose is to fund an ever increasing police state just isn't why the riot happened.

The strawman is Alex's, not Rick's.

No, of course the strawman under question here is rick's.

Alex is simply showing that there is evidence of excessive enforcement causing police/public relations problems. Thus the unrest was was probably caused by excessive enforcement although catalyzed by semi-appropriate enforcement.

"Alex is simply showing that there is evidence of excessive enforcement causing police/public relations problems."

He is directly (see picture of cop firing a grenade launcher) connecting the riot to excessive fines.

"How does a stop for jaywalking turn into a homicide and how does that turn into an American town essentially coming under military control with snipers, tear gas, and a no-fly zone?"

Alex is directly saying that the cop committed homicide. Alex is directly saying the cop murdered the man.

Alex then jumps to "events like this don’t happen without a deeper context. Part of the context is the return of debtor’s prisons"

This connection between the riots and the use of law enforcement as tax collectors is what I am not accepting. I do not see Alex, or anyone else for that matter, proving that it follows. As you probably already know, I'm not a fan of the return of the Sheriff of Nottingham, but that does not mean that the people are rioting for these reasons.

There is no connection of our objections to police as tax collectors to the action of the looters. Alex, you, and others are projecting our view that excessive fines are bad onto the motivation of the rioters.

"Thus the unrest was was probably caused by excessive enforcement although catalyzed by semi-appropriate enforcement."

Destruction of businesses was directly connected to excessive enforcement, specifically the enforcement of fines/child care laws, is the unsupported assertion that is being made by you and Alex.

All you have is "probably".

NPW, I think you need to look up homicide in a dictionary. There's absolutely no doubt the cop committed homicide. Even the cop acknowledges that. So the characterization that a stop for jay walking led to a homicide is 100% correct.

The weaseling about saying that homicide doesn't have to mean murder, when that is what it means 99.9% of the time is pathetic.

It doesn't mean that even close to 99.9% of the time. It means what it means.

The question is what Alex meant. Sure, he could have used a better word for killed, although killed is ambiguous.

I also find the assumption that there is no possible connection between protesters (not looters mind you) and a general discontent to be a respectable one but a bit puzzling.

NPW, the cop did commit commit homicide-- which means he killed a man (you do accept that black folk are human, right?). "Murder" and "homocide" are not synonyms. The former is a legal category under homocide.

Do not feed the troll!

Eat the trolls, I say.

There is no crime of jaywalking in the UK and yet there is no discernible problem. In the event that an obstruction is actually being caused then there is a possibility of arrest for that offence.

People who wish to criminalise such minor violations show a disturbing level of authoritarianism.

But what about a privately developed neighborhood outside of city boundaries that has such a rule? Would that be problematic even if it's stupid?

I guess the UK doesn't have a problem with people standing in the street blocking traffic just because they can. The US does. I'm also supposing that the jaywalkers in the UK don't kick, hit, or urinate on your car, again, just because they can.

Seriously, how often do people do this? Come on, your nuts.

How can I possibly know how often people come on your nuts?

Daily where I live.

i suggest buying a dash cam then.

Every freaking day and night.

Oakland, do you share the acquaintance of that guy on MLK and under the 580 who attacks and jumps onto the hoods of cars? I know him too!

I would be so pleased if I had such a random connection with someone on the Internet...

It is funny how people assume cops solve problems every time one fucks up big time.

Let's get the narrative right, was the cop really concerned about jay walking, or was the jay walking just the pretext for the stop?

I could solve the problem, but then I'd go to jail. And I don't want to live in a society where street justice is the norm.

And as far as if it was about jaywalking or not, does it matter? A career criminal got shot in the front after a physical altercation with a cop. Then people with the same skin color decided to riot. Basically, a thief got shot and a bunch of other people of the same skin color decided that in protest they should bust out some windows and steal some more stuff.

Not that I'm in anyway advocating this, but I'd understand if the response was to burn down the police station or kill some cops. But when people are running around claiming that when a thief who assulted a cop was killed because he was a black, and their response is to get a bunch of other black people together to steal and assult cops....WTF.

I wouldn't agree, but I'd understand if they burned down the police station. But robbing more stores? It is pure, unadulturated opportunism.

The discussion about the militarization of the police, race, poverty, however valid, does not intersect with this event.

people wouldnt feel that way if the cops didnt mess with them so much. the anger isnt about him being black directly. Its about being oppressed by a bunch of cops that think they are better than everyone in the community paying their salaries in the first place. Nothing is worse than when a cop abuses his power and finds some way to f with you. You really have no defense. Its not a fair fight and it angers people. It angers me. I sympathize with the community not because I am black (I am not) but because I find an oppressive police force absolutely intolerable. I would rather risk being robbed by a criminal than be abused by a police force. I am a law abiding generally good citizen but I have been harrassed by police on at least 2 occasions. In has left a permanent bitter taste in my mouth that I doubt will ever go away.

If the anger was towards cops being oppressive, they would attack the cops directly instead of looting stores.

sometimes anger isnt always expressed logically. thats why anger is a vice, even when its justified.

Fights with the police are not supposed to be fair. That would be called "anarchy." In fact, they're supposed to be so unfair that only a moron would start one. From your strident tone and tiresome chicken-hawking about "racism," I'm guessing you're not an anarchist.

Look, I don't like getting hassled either. I don't like getting arrested. It is a real shitty feeling. In the dark and evil days of the past, this country had much less crime and far fewer police per capita…

And yet the anger is consistently expressed this way, and then the behavior is defended because the anger was justified.

If a man kills a drunk driver who just killed his two sons, that is an angry person responding to events, and I'm inclined to do nothing. Which I suppose is functional approval.

If a man kills random people because he is angry that a drunk driver killed his two sons, I'm inclined to support the death penalty.

I don't think I'll ever be on the side that justifies violence towards people orthogonal to an event.

There are people inclinded to be oppressive. If we take some of them and give them the ability to keep the other oppressors in check, society can move along.

We call some cops and some criminals.

But law enforcement, just like the military, in a free society needs to answer to the citizens, not the other way around. This isn't anarchy.

I am not an anarchist, far from it.I just can't stand abusive police forces. Further, I am not advocating anger, it always leads to a negative. I am just saying I understand their anger here. This police force needs to be addressed. They are the problem here. Right or wrong in this particular case, they are the problem here.

"A career criminal got shot"

When did this happen?

I know you're not talking about Michael Brown, because the St Louis County Prosecutor has said he had no prior arrest record. None. Perhaps you are referring to some other incident?


Michael Brown had repeatedly and unrepentantly committed the felony of being black, all throughout his life. Of course he was a career criminal who had it coming.

Jay walking, hahaha. I wasnt born yesterday.

I sure hope this is just a troll.

I do not think I had ever heard the term "strongarm robbery" until this situation. Seems like a transparent attempto to evoke thoughts of "armed robbery."

The term "strongarm robbery" is very old, but it has no well-defined description. It certainly isn't a legal term.

You can think of robbery as a combination of assault and theft. Combined, they are a felony. Separate, they may be misdemeanors.

So why say strongarm? Possibly to distinguish from threat with firearms or knife. Mostly, I think it is framing. It reminds me of A Few Good Men -- Grave danger? Is there another kind?

Let me add, though, that this is not a clearcut robbery.

To be robbery, the prosecutor must prove specific intent to use force in a theft. It cannot be force used after a theft or a threat.

One can prove the specific intent through circumstantial evidence.

Given this case, I would charge robbery and accept a plea down to assault and theft. Hard ass that I am, I'd insist on jail time, but a bleeding heart judge might let this first offense off very easy.

Yeah it sounds like theft and assault to me. I would be the judge letting him go with just probation or the like. I am a fairly rare combination of someone who is soft on a lot of criminal activity, and disfavors imprisonment generally, but also thinks we should execute more people.

As for the strong arm thing, I am glad it is not a legal term or I'd say my education had more holes in it than I thought. I am thinking of taking the Bar in the not too distant future, so I guess that will be the time for me to really learn the law.

"Strongarm robbery" is not an obscure term.

The FBI UCR statistics use it.

And you will notice that all states have at least one, so whether or not they use precisely the same terminology, it is recognized as a type of robbery.

Well of course-- we should have summary execution for people walking in the street when they shouldn't. Why didn't I think of that?

Except that isn't what happened at all.....

Actually, that's exactly what happened. Cop: judge, jury, executioner.

An officer firing a weapon in the line of duty is not a judicial outcome. You realize that, right?

You mean the cop took the law into his hands? Yeah, that's correct.

I think you missed a few steps in the process.

Cop should have used his clothing to lasso and restrain mbrown.

No, in a Democrat paradise, as seen on tv, people walk slowly down the middle of the street blocking traffic, a cop hollers at them and either the cop shoots him in the back or shoots in self defense depending on the story, and no one can walk down the street because of a phalanx of police on one end and rioters on the other.

This is Democrat rule. Maybe a libertarian on council or somewhere pestering with questions like "what the f**k is this about", making someone justify their stupidity would help a bit.


Only on a economics-related website would I find purely normative comments.

Well, especially on an econ-related site.

So, rick, you believe the cops should arrest lots and lots of people to prevent strong arm robbery, and if anyone resists preventative arrests, cops are justified in shot to kill?

Given that, shouldn't cops arrest all politicians as soon as the announce their candidacy to prevent political corruption?

After all. anyone declaring their candidacy for dog catcher should spend weeks in jail if they failed to hire powerful lawyers to defend them from the police. That is simply the cost of republican democracy and clean government....

After all, politicians are held in lower regard and seen as threats more than minorities.

If he was blocking traffic there would have been witnesses. Clearly there wasn't much traffic on the street.

Jaywalking fines are intended to help keep things moving sensibly in areas of high traffic. The lack of witnesses is proof that the cop did not need to hassle this guy for crossing the road in the middle of the night.

The apparent robbery of the liquor store has nothing to do with the incident, for all intents and purposes, because the cop who fired the bullets didn't know. All it does is provide BS excuses for absolutely unacceptable behaviour (understatement, the dude is SHOT DEAD, for God's sake) on the part of the police.

I've been thinking a lot about this really excellent podcast from 99% Invisible about how jaywalking became a crime. It's pretty messed up. http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/episode-76-the-modern-moloch/

Don't think that's what he wrote. His point is that citizens are harassed daily for minor issues. Neither walking in the street or stealing cigars constitutes a death sentence.

So the great legal mind from Arch City Defenders actually divided the total fines collected by the number of households to arrive at his conclusion? Apparently ONLY residents of Ferguson were fined. Yep. Good thing he's not in finance. Where was the African American leadership all this time?

I know you are trolling, but the article clearly states that the crime rate is average, but the fines and arrests is above average. The riots is not only about the Brown shooting, it was the final straw after years of abuse by the police.

Alex begins with a question.... "How does a stop for jaywalking turn into a homicide and how does that turn into an American town essentially coming under military control with snipers, tear gas, and a no-fly zone? "

Well..... gee whiz.... we just don't know, do we? Could there be any element in this tale that is the same element in other examples of urban rioting and looting? Maybe it's because the Swedes are too easily riled.

Any post starting with "So, you're saying..." is BS to be ignored.

So happy to know U and all your Love Ones Live on a Perfect World. Many times low Income Families don't have the Means to Accommodate Baby Sitters, Transportation and if U go back to Jim Crow Times in the Sourh and Segragation times it was the Law that a Colored Person couldn't walk on the Side Walk. Old Habits Die Hard. It's still no Justification for a Human to be Shot and Killed. There's no justification for Thievery but it still DOSEN'T Warrant being Killed For. It's basically the Equivalent of Driving While Texting and who gets Kill for that Offence???


You are missing the point. Alex is not taking sides. He is just saying there is something wrong with the police's rent-seeking behavior. As a society we have to ask ourselves what the role of police should be. Should they be in the business of maximizing their profits as would a private company? Or is their mission different? If you say yes to the first, then why are my tax dollars subsidizing them? Let them be a private company. And if not, then as a society we need to look at the contracts we have with the police and rework them so that their incentives are in line with ours--society's. The principal-agent problem raises its ugly head again.

Contract negotiations don't work too well when one side is in fact a monopolist.

The police have a perverse incentive: the more fines they issue for misdemeanors, the more revenue they raise. Meanwhile, the non-lucrative major crimes go unpunished.

One possible solution is to remove the incentive. Instead of paying the police, the fine revenues can be paid to a different part of government - perhaps to education, as a crime-prevention tool.

Law enforcement has become tax collectors whose purpose it to fund ever increasing law enforcement. The classic self-licking ice cream cone.

Rand Paul has proposed a bill to do just that

Part of the problem, if AlexT's narrative is correct, is that cops in the USA make too much money, close to $200k with overtime, and with crime rates falling, they have to find an excuse to justify their existence, hence they will crack down on the least offense. It happens in lily-white neighborhoods in the USA too, though, as AlexT says, you can buy your way out of trouble.


BLS puts the number closer to 50k.

Doesn't include overtime and benefits, which are huge.

haha, 200k. Has anyone you have ever known been a cop? 200k. hahahaha.

Ray, cops do not all make 200k a year in the US... what are you smoking?
All the rural cops, deputies and state police around here make less than 30k a year... they may add 10k to that for overtime but not much more. Not even close to 200k.
After reading all the above posts I am wondering if most of the people here commenting have even considered the basic facts:
Brown was approached by the officer for jaywalking. We don't know the officer's intent... it may have been to warn and protect Brown and his companion from being run over by a careless driver.
Over a dozen witnesses have stated that Brown struggled with the officer through the law enforcement vehicle window, all report that Brown struck the officer in the face then walked away. A shot was fired in the vehicle as they struggled. When the officer exited the vehicle and commanded Brown to stop, Brown turned on him, verbally taunted him then charged him.
The officer, having already been assaulted and having had to struggle for the control of his weapon, was obviously in fear of the 6'2" nearly 300 lb Brown. The officer fired in self defense and Brown was killed. Brown's aggression is what got him killed, NOT racism, not "social injustice". Many are using race as a convenient excuse, then when that fails they throw in "social injustice" which may be real but was not pertinent to this case in any way. The police in Ferguson reacted to the looting and rioting with a show of force... and yes some officers were way out of line. I'm extremely happy that the rogue officers are being ferreted out. What I see here is many people latching on to this incident as a means to express their personal political and social viewpoints even though they are irrelevant to this incident. Those from the "Left" seem all too eager to shout "racism" to get their way... most people do not want to be characterized as racist so they cow down to the shouts from the loudmouths... some do not and they are nearly always shouted down with personal attacks and insults. Racism does exist but it's not nearly as prevalent as the shouters claim. Racism is not limited to white people... to state or even think this is absurd and irrational. People in rural communities nationwide are living in poverty. Poverty knows no racial boundaries. The only people living well in this country are the politicians and the 1% ultra wealthy. Why aren't we ALL turning our anger and disgust toward the politicians that live like royalty and take our hard earned money to pay for all their excesses? Really, the social and economic problems in this country come from the Government... that's where the change has to be... after that everything else will fall in line.
We are all sheep if we let the politicians manipulate us into fighting each other... they throw a lot of diversions in front of us to keep us from watching them............... wake up.

The problem here is that Alex created a straw man to support the notion that city budgets are supported by fines. He should have made that point. What he said was ridiculous.

These guys werent jaywalking. They were walking down the middle of the street, obstructing traffic, endangering the lives of themselves and others.

They had already robbed a store, so their unobservable mindset that day was wanton disregard for the lives and property of others and seeking an outlet for their violence.

The cop didnt threaten to fine them. He told them to get out of the street. When they didnt comply, he moved to stop them. Thats when the thug attacked the cop.

After being attacked, the cop moved for a felony arrest.

At this point the facts diverge, but it is clear this was not a ticket trap, it wasnt a random stop of black men just "walking down the street," and there was a threat to lives and property. Absolutely nothing in this case supports Alex' stretched contention.

If he needs anecdotes of government extortion of citizens, I've got better ones.

Alex is not connecting this incident to the fine raj. He is connecting the oppressive raj to the reaction catalyzed by the incident.

1. They were not pulled over for robbing a store.
2. Jay walking isn't a crime.

I live in a jail town. Law enforcement is not only aggressive here, it's also profitable. Perhaps a little more profitable that it ought to be.

Why do we pay cops $60 an hour to harass poor people?

Because they won't do it for free. And the poor aren't going to harass themselves.

I agree with this, but thus it remains surprising that lower income respondents to this poll were more likely to say that it should be a crime to leave children unattended, even though they would be more likely to be unable to afford childcare.

One wonders, since as a society over the past 100 years we've turned children from profit centers (working hands on a farm, for example) to loss centers (where children are not allowed to work, and we must support them and buy them clothing and provide them an education), and since so many costs around a child are relatively fixed regardless of income, that the poll response reflects the fact that children are more of an economic luxury for poorer parents than for wealthy parents.

After all, the poll suggests that poorer parents do not perceive a greater threat than richer parents--so it must be driven by something else. And given we're on an economics blog, perhaps we should look to an economic explanation? :-)

In both industrial times and preindustrial times, children were net losses. The productivity of children on a farm or in a factory did not make up for their cost.

They weren't so much a net loss as they were a retirement plan. Whoever took over the family farm/business was responsible for taking care of you in your old age. Multiple children provided asset diversification.

Most people didn't need to be cared for in old age. You worked until you died. Once your vigor started to go it wasn't long, in most cases, before pneumonia or some other infection carried you off.

On the other hand, childhood mortality was appallingly high right into the 1800s. You needed six kids just be sure two or three would survive you.

Leaving children "attended" is no guarantee of abuse avoidance, even with millenia-old institutions (I'm not Catholic basher, btw, just stater of all things obvious). So, if a kid is old enough to take care of themselves, we should focus on the adult abusers.

"I agree with this, but thus it remains surprising that lower income respondents to this poll were more likely to say that it should be a crime to leave children unattended, even though they would be more likely to be unable to afford childcare."

Actually, the poll is about letting children play unsupervised in a public park.

Perhaps what it means is that people that live in high crime areas are more likely to say that it should be a crime to leave children unattended.

Or they could just be wrong. I can't remember what age I was tooling all over creation on my bike hitting every park and some twice. I do remember walking home from elementary school what seems like miles and miles. It didn't seem to be a problem. By age 12 it passes 50% acceptance of self supervision.

In my opinion, it is our propensity to treat poverty as a moral failure rather than as an economic failure (of implicit marginal tax rates exceeding 100% which make poverty a rational decision) which has contributed to the problem.

Instead of seeing people in poverty as people behind an economic curve which gives them few good choices, we see them as lazy or as examples of failure of the State--and it's easy to treat them as "Them", the "Other"--"too stupid to think to get ahead" as some above put it.

And by treating this as a moral failure rather than as a economic failure, it is easy to then dismiss the things we do that actually create and perpetuate poverty as essentially punishing those who are "too stupid to think to get ahead", who are lazy, morally worthless, or (worse), who were unsuccessfully weaned by the State and who now need stringer State-driven measures to "fix."

That's why they should give a trophy to every youth athletic player.

And one of those giant checks to every adult.

In my experience the reason we treat it as a moral failure is because it usually is a moral failing. I live near lots of urban poverty, and bad choices are on display in abundance. I most certainly do not see a bunch of people doing the best they can under trying circumstances, but rather people who make consistently bad choices and struggle to conform some of the most basic societal norms for how to behave (no, walking around shirtless while having an apparent with your contest with your friends to see who can display the most amount of underwear without your pants falling down is not acceptable behavior). But don't take my anecdotal information for it -- how often do even stories in the media about the poor show people making all the right choices but coming up short? Almost never, I suspect because such examples are hard to find. Hell, look at the recent Nick Kristof column about those in poverty, in which the main character supposedly deserving of our sympathy admits to various addictions and over two dozen run-ins with the law.

What the poor lack isn't money, it's a code and a proper upbringing. There's a good reason why refugees for Bosnia or Vietnam can show up here with little or nothing and have their sons and daughters attending Stanford.

ever stop and think of where that history of poor upbrining came from? Could it have anything to do with hundreds of years of being treated as property? Of having your children sold off? Of having your spouse raped by their "owner"? Of having fathers sold to other places? It wasn't unil about 50 years ago that anything even close to equality of treatment has occurred. Prior to that, there was this history of hundreds of years of exploitation. That doesn't change overnight.

Every single group in this world: white, black, Chinese, etc., has been oppressed and enslaved at some point in history. If we all just kept reacting to the unfairness meted out to our group in the past, where would we be?

That doesn't address colins point which is that his success and position in life relative to poor people is due to his moral superiority.

No, there are a variety of reasons why my relative position is superior, of which better choices is only one. Even if all those people made consistently excellent choices they might not be as well off as me. But they would probably be a lot better off that what they are, which is the point you seem to have missed.

Yes, I have given some thought to where that comes from, and the role of slavery and Jim Crow no doubt plays a significant role. That said, why is it that in many respects things appear to have actually worsened since slavery? Why has out of child wedlock increased? And was the amount of undiginified behavior even worse 100 years ago, when the historical legacy of slavery was less distant? I have my doubts.

Furthermore, this does not explain the bad choices being made by poor people of other ethnic groups. Are we supposed to think that everyone in Appalachia, for example, is just doing the best they can? Keep in mind Kristof's column about parents there deliberately keeping their kids illiterate in order to receive bigger checks from the government.

Let me add that I take no joy in saying any of this. If I thought poverty could be solved by simply giving people bigger checks -- as is commonly advocated for by the left -- that would be great, as the solution would be relatively simple and straight forward. As it is, I don't see how that would help at all, as I just see it resulting in more tattoos, expensive sneakers, drugs and other forms of ridiculousness. Sending out checks is east -- changing behavior and the upbringing of children, now that's hard.

read up on the history of Appalachia before you comment on it. Appalachian people have a pretty rich history of exploitation as well. Its no surprise that what can only be called warfare has existed in that region through the last 200 years.

150 years ago is overnight?

oh yes, mistreatment of minorities stopped in 1865, haha.

Exactly - a series of interconnected and mutually reinforcing moral failures. One of those moral failures is treating law enforcement as an enemy rather than an ally. Even if one reasonably believes that cops are prejudiced, there is no justification for a "no snitching" campaign or failing to report crimes as an eyewitness.

maybe, but when the police force is treating its abusing its power, it loses its legitimacy and respect. The problem here is a function of the way the police are treating the very citizens that are paying them. Act reasonable, and people will act reasonable back. If the population had a positive opinion of the police, this matter would be on the 15th page of a local news paper.

Once upon a time crime was a generational stepping stone to help minorities (Italian, Irish, Jews) make it to the middle class. The difference between the mafia and gangs is that the mafia were able to buy off the police. Within two generations, most mafioso descendants were in legitimate trades.

"What the poor lack isn’t money, it’s a code and a proper upbringing."

You're correct about the lack of proper upbringing. Now, in areas with chronic poverty, extend it over multiple generations. Poverty becomes much more than a lack of skills and discipline; it becomes a culture. Complete with a self-reinforcing code. That is what has to be undone and replaced for any true headway to be made.

You're right, simply giving money to people raised in such an environment isn't going to accomplish much, much less resolve the problem. Unfortunately, neither does simply cutting them off. These people, and these places, aren't magically going to cease to exist if cut off. Instead, they'll turn to vagrancy and crime even moreso than they already have.

Effectively fighting chronic poverty requires massive and sustained investment, institution-building, and enforcement for generations. It means re-socializing people from the ground up. Trouble is, that's expensive and intensive. It's also utterly and completely contrary to both liberal tenets of diversity and right-wing tenets of self-reliance and self-determination. Ignoring them or, at most, cutting them a welfare check is far easier and, at least in the near term, cheaper.

"It means re-socializing people from the ground up."

What does that look like? How is that done? I pose these as non-rhetorical, serious questions. I genuinely don't know.

No one does, it's one of the most intractable problems and one of the reasons some just throw up their hands and say 'the poor will always be with us so just keep them away from me'

Today is Year Zero.

"What does that look like?"

The post-war occupation and reconstruction of a defeated enemy nation-state. Something parallel in scope and duration to post-WWII Japan and Germany.

No, I'm not joking.

Neither the Germans nor the Japanese were mired in a "poverty culture". Quite to the contrary, even though their countries were almost destroyed, the population was still full of educated people used to hard work. As soon as the oppressive totalitarian regimes were removed, the countries bloomed.

Note that the same did not happen in, say, Algeria.

Marian, that's why I said parallel in scope and duration, not identical in nature. That said, Germany and Japan didn't turn into civilized economic powerhouses overnight after the war. Iraq and Afghanistan would be somewhat more analogous contexts, but the U.S. ended reconstruction efforts in both places far too early for any sustainable success to take hold.

Truthfully, a post-WWII Japan/Germany-scale effort would be a best-case scenario. A more realistic time commitment is on the order of 2-3 generations.

Like I said, intensive and expensive. And, obviously, in sharp conflict with both liberal and right-wing ideology.

Well said. Ideology on both ends of the spectrum gets in the way. But as you also pointed out, it's a really hard thing to do even without ideological constraints.

We are being a tad precious. A poverty legacy doesn't make someone jack a carton of blunts or bum rush a cop. That is garden variety stupid.


You may not have noticed, but this particular tangent isn't about the Michael Brown case.

No. I am simply pointing out that no amount of oppression compels someone to do something stupid.

andrew': if you grow up in the deep ghetto, you are probably going to do a lot of things that look pretty stupid to people born to less problematic parents in less hellish places. You're screwed on both nature and nurture. I would think all political flavors could at least agree on that baseline. The only question is what, if anything, to do.

I'm not saying there's no free will (although I'm not certain there is), but people born into those circumstances are born already down 5-0 in the 8th inning (to wedge a baseball analogy in there).

Shorter - "I saw a black guy's underwear, which is why he is poor"
Have you ever known a poor person, or do you just look down your nose at them as you drive by with your doors locked?

Strawman goes up, strawman goes down. Also, I don't own a car. I usually walk or bike by them.

@William Woody

But in today's Western societies - despite the "progressive" States' sustained efforts to license occupations, put entry barriers with minimum wages etc - everyone still has plenty of opportunity for gainful, lawful employment.

Excepting people who are seriously mentally and physically disabled, there's really no reason not to work, unless you don't like it.

Belonging to the underclass, as an adult, is a moral failure. It means that you're simply too lazy, too weak willed, too stupid, too addicted to welfare (and probably other things), or have a far too good opinion about yourself.

I remember a TV program about unemployment in the UK. After interviewing a bunch of British nationals who didn't work, because they "could't find work" (read: they were a bunch of losers who wanted jobs far in excees of their abilities), they asked a Polish immigrant how is it that the Brits cannot find jobs. To which the guy was genuinely - and hilariously - confused and said: "Cannot find work? Impossible!".

"...everyone still has plenty of opportunity for gainful, lawful employment."


"Belonging to the underclass, as an adult, is a moral failure."

In some cases, yes. In other cases, no.

Life is stochastic, not deterministic. Sometimes shit happens, and people fall through cracks in the system. Not as often as liberals like to believe, but certainly more often than the right wing is willing to admit.

Just don't jack blunts or sucker punch gun dudes and you reduce your variance.

Some gun dudes are easy to spot, others not.

Once again, smartass, we're not talking about Michael Brown anymore.

Yeah, but the people for whom poverty is a random twist of fate don't have every other single accoutrement of endemic poverty such as a police record, friends whose criminality is a going concern, a hateful envy of those better off, etc. They tend to be living like ascetics in mixed and stable neighborhoods. They are poor, but they do not 'belong to the underclass', IOW.

Am I wrong?

>>of implicit marginal tax rates exceeding 100% which make poverty a rational decision

The high marginal rates result from poverty assistance programs.

Story doesn't check out.

From a Bloomberg ad against teen pregnancy (really illegitimacy at any age).

"If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98% chance of not being in poverty."

The statistic may or may not be exactly correct. However, poverty is most assuredly a moral issue and pretending otherwise doesn't help.

Of course, flooding the U.S. with desperate poor people (legal and illegal immigrants) is both a moral issue and an economic one.

You are sort of suggesting that we know this chance (whether 98% or not) approximately. But we don't; I'd bet a large amount that there is no study even hinting at what the answer might be between - probably it's between 0.0001% and 99.999% but I'd be astonished if there is any serious research narrowing it down more precisely than this.
I can accept that there are probably good studies showing that 98% or so of people who finish high school, get a job, and have children only after marriage, aren't in poverty. Of course, a study proving _that_ doesn't support and is effectively irrelevant to this supposed Bloomberg ad.

Citation: Haskins, R. & Sawhill, I. (2009). Our Vision: In Haskins, R. & Sawhill, I. (Eds.) Creating and Opportunity Society (p. 9). Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

Of course, we can't prove that gravity causes planetary motion either. The theory of gravity does have pretty good predictive value though.

The "moral failure" bit is an excuse for right wingers who whinge about paying taxes into a system which provided a structure within which they were able to get rich, by Puritans who think that poverty is God's proof that they didn't deserve it, and on the part of racists who observe that migrants and descendents of slaves tend to be poorer than white people.

Aca didn't make anyone rich. Neither did public schools.

As you were.

We are in a deep problem. We are creating a lot more 18 year olds than jobs. Kids in my family have gone in the military just because they had to eat. Now even that is getting drawn down. I remember the bad times in the 80's when I was reaching my majority. There were just no jobs. Period. I read that we will have a 2008 level of jobs in 2015. But we have made hundreds of thousands of 18 year olds. These kids are facing a reality that there are no jobs. And what jobs there are don't pay anything.

So we've got a whole bunch of kids with no future. It's like my era. They'll try to stay in college and borrow money for student loans and be in debt for the rest of their life. I'm 52 and I know guys who never worked in the career they were educated for and still have a student loan. They got passed by younger people who were more fresh out of college in the 90's and never recovered.

My dad did a year in the army and 20 years with the USDA and retired. He had a BS in accounting with a 2.5 GPA. That wouldn't get you a job washing cars today. The silicon companies around here used to make millionaires. Those days are done. You've got some decent jobs, but you're not gonna spend your life working at a company for 20 years.

In my neighborhood, I see a lot of people working full time and on public assistance. My neighbor does flooring. Everything but his pay has gone up over the last 15 years. 15 years ago, he didn't need an EBT card to feed his kids. The idea is we work hard and get paid enough to live on. Not so much anymore. At it's getting worse.

The evaporation of the middle class is scary. It should even be scary for the ultra rich, because that's where they largely get their money from.

Not only are good jobs scarce. I don't think there are any more Warren Buffets or Bill Gates to be made.

My wife and I live in an "up and comping" neighborhood. We laughed our asses off when we found out that he was originally stopped for jay-walking. If you live in a bubble, you just dont understand the antisocial, often times violent nature of young thuggish black people walking down the middle of the street, slowing down as cars approach with the intent of making them wait, knowing you cant do anything about it, with the implicit threat of damaging your car if you get to close or try to go around.

"How does a stop for jaywalking turn into a homicide "

Easy. You assault the cop out of fear of being arrested for the convenience store robbery you just committed 10 minutes prior. No red hearing appeals to the military are necessary. I like the faux appeal to objectivity - "We don’t yet know exactly what happened between the two individuals on the day" - after calling the incident a homicide in the previous sentence.

"If you live in a bubble, you just dont understand the antisocial, often times violent nature of young thuggish black people walking down the middle of the street..."

Well, if the cop shows up and escalates the situation, the situation isn't going to de-escalate, right?

Like Alex said, we still dont know what happened. Unlike what Alex said, it may have been self defense. Which means the guy who just robbed a convenience store was the escalator.

A cop showing up at the scene where a career criminal has just committed another violent felony is always going to "escalate" the situation, I guess. What else were they supposed to do, wait for him to turn himself in? Follow-up question: would it still be a problem if the store clerk had ventilated this thug while he was assaulting the clerk and threatening his life, or is this only a problem because the clerk delegated the use of force to the official law enforcement body?

In regards to the Brown case, per the police themselves, the officer was unaware of the incident at the store. There's also a video which, shown in full, appears to show Brown paying for the merchandise then getting into an altercation with a store employee, for what reason we can't tell. It's passing odd that if the guy had just robbed a store he would be walking arrogantly down the middle of the street as if to say "Come and get me", and not skulking through an alley as any thief with even two brain cells firing would be.

I take it you have never seen video clips of felonies posted by the perpetrators themselves on social media. Its a cray cray world.

There seems to be some confusion over what the cop knew.

But Brown was aware. So when a cop barks at him about walking in the middle of the street, instead of the normal response of smirking and ambling over to the sidewalk, his brain immediately kicks into fight-or-flight mode and he escalates.

That's a possible scenario, I wasn't there so I don't know.

There's a bigger problem here, and that is what we do with laws written for a low time-preference majority in a society which has a substantial high time-preference minority. Historically, this sort of thing doesn't end well.

No such clips do not exist: neither Brown nor his companion took any videos (and Brown, being dead was hardly able to post anything). There was a store surveillance camera and the police took the footage some time after these events. They selectively released a few stills from this. When the full footage was finally released it showed Brown paying for the merchandise then getting into an altercation for unknown reasons (there is no audio) with a store employee.

There is only confusion because people have been sowing it via Internet rumor. The Ferguson PD has categorically stated that no information about the store incident was disseminated to patrol officers.

well if they didnt have a history of abusing the population, people would not have cared. Stops acting like dicks and people wouldnt be so upset when something like this happens. Stop fining the crap out of everyone and people wouldnt feel abused by the police. Thats the issue. This is an abusive police force and the citizens have had enough of it.

"at the scene where a career criminal has just committed another violent felony"

The St Louis County Prosecutor has said the Michael Brown shot by Wilson had no prior arrest record. Do you have any evidence at all that he was a "career criminal"?

The cop had no prior arrest record.

The robbery tells us a lot about Brown's state of mind. We've seen scant evidence inferring the cop was a hothead. One little girl said he was mean to her. Hard to establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination here.

"The cop had no prior arrest record."

That has nothing to do with rick making false statements of fact about Michael Brown. Having never been arrested for, much less convicted of, a crime, Michael Brown was not a "career criminal". To say otherwise in an attempt to argue that he was justifiably killed is wrong.

"The robbery tells us a lot about Brown’s state of mind."

No robbery has been reported. The full security video shows Brown apparently paying for his cigars before the interaction with the clerk/shop assistant on his way out. The store owner has not said anything was stolen.

What does that tell us about Brown's state of mind?

At what point in that security video does he pay for the cigars. Is Le Merchant angry that Michael Brown left before he was given his change back? Le Merchant is saying nothing so he doesn't look like he's snitching. Better for business this way. His store doesn't get looted and his family doesn't get hassled by shit lib justice warriors or worse, rioters.

I see now, stealing some cigars from a liquor store elevated to "career criminal".

OK, it was worse than that.

Whatever, I don't want to defend the guy. They shot an unarmed civilian. I don't care what else about anything else of any circumstance. That's all you need to know. It was wrong. The police need to respond to the public about how they are/will work to ensure that this does not happen.

You ARE defending him.

What is the narrative you are defending?

"Cop sees black kids walking in street. When they ignore his command to get out of street, he gets out of his car and shoots the biggest one (and not the other) who was doing nothing other than raising his hands, in front of witnesses."

Just like the Trayvon narrative and the Oscar Grant narrative, it doesn't make a damned bit of sense.

Zimmerman killed Trayvon because Trayvon attacked him.

Wilson killed Brown because Brown attacked him. The only remaining question is whether Brown was coming toward him or not during Round 2. At worst, anger not racism.

Mehserle killed Grant because he confused his pistol with a Taser.

Those make sense. I'm hesitant to say we need to put you in Wilson's circumstances, but that may be what's needed. The only thing I'm sure of is that I would have survived all three incidents, and that has nothing to do with my race, but rather how I react to police officers.


Who gets arrested for jay-walking?? Unless there's a warrant you get a ticket and you pay it in the mail. If you don't pay, then they get all up and huffy and all that.

I raised three sons. I told each of them to obey the law and don't go sideways with the cops. You don't mess with a guy with a gun and a badge and the force of the governmen behind him/her. It's, "Yes, sir. No ,sir. " And, "Have a nice day, sir."

Biggest displayed attribute here is the lack of self-awareness on all sides and on so many levels. I am not a psychologist or a sociologist. The "lack of self-awareness" translates into "a lump of shit for brains."

Good advice, of course, but suppose your kid slips up, gives a cop some lip, maybe even shoves him, and ends up with a bullet in his head.

I call that earning his "Darwin Award."

Dayum. I prefer to think you are staking out a position for the sake of argument rather than accurately reporting your reaction to the death of your child in such circumstances.

Even shoving a cop wouldn't likely get you killed, but it would earn you a helluva beatdown.

Beating the kid up is quite the different story from shooting him in the head.

Shoving? Is that what we call fracturing someone's eye socket now?

And what if the cop is an ass that's making stuff up. you just go, yes sir, anything you say sir. I will pay that fine with pleasure sir. Please. I am not saying go off and be disrespectful and I would always suggest being polite to cops even when they are in the wrong. But I understand the anger when a cop is messing with you, all the while hiding behind their badge.

Okay. Every few years, I waste time re-reading Homer, The Odyssey. It is not only one of the greatest stories, it provides useful advice for a man in the world. Reading Homer, we learn why Odyseus made it home to Ithaca, albeit 10 years late, and all his companions met dolorous deaths on the way. He was never at a loss and they each "slipped." Although, I still don't see why Od. felt the need to kill all the suitors and maidens . . .

I havent read either of these works in well over a decade but I have no idea what you are getting at here.

The "community" assuming that it was another innocent victim is a symptom of the problem, as is likely the scoffing at the community for doing this.

What does "innocent" have to do with it.

He was unarmed and got shot dead by cops. That is the sum of relevant information.

So if I pummel you nearly unconcious, briefly leave, and then come back to attack you again, are you saying that you have no right to use deadly force?

I don't know that that's what happened, but it certainly sounds like the other side of the story that's coming out and it certainly is all relevant. That, and oh, the cop had a firearm.

Kind of weird you seem to think it can't be justified. The huge black man had both arms and everyone now is into mma.

So really, since he had his arms, he wasn't unarmed at all!

"homicide" = man + kill

I never took Latin, so someone help me out.

yes, legal killings are also homicides.

Yes, I believe Ambrose Bierce said there are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy.

The phrase for a legal killing is justifiable homicide. The police account for around 370 a year.

“The FBI data shows that between 1980 and 2008, there was a slight decline in the total number of justifiable homicides by law enforcement officers (Table 1). From 1980 to 1984, the average annual number was 395 such homicides, whereas for 2005 to 2008, the average number was 374. This was a 5% decrease in the total number of these justifiable homicides.”

Read the actual list of justifiable homicides for a typical month (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_in_the_United_States,_January_2013)

Other than some domestic violence cases, it’s all drug dealers, robbers, etc.

The trick to not getting upset is filling in the unknown with whatever is necessary to get you from unacceptable cause to unacceptable effect without having to change your mind about anything. Sorry you've been inconvenienced by pedestrians sometimes! As a pedestrian I'm constantly inconvenienced by cars not letting me go where I want with the implicit threat of killing me should I get in their path. Those violent thuggish cars!

I live in Baltimore and I've seen people walking down the middle of the street in full arrogant strut (and not just black people). However I've never seen anyone damage a car passing by them (which is pretty risky thing to try with a moving ton of metal). At most they just sneer, maybe flip the finger.

"Gentrifiers" should be ones most aware of this.

In fact, this is broken windows done correctly. Stopping a jaywalker resulted in a potential arrest for robbery/grand larceny.

Also, Alex doesn't seem to be aware that in the US court system, you can fine and charge people who don't live in that jurisidiction.

"In fact, this is broken windows done correctly. Stopping a jaywalker resulted in a potential arrest for robbery/grand larceny. - See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/08/ferguson-and-the-debtors-prison.html#comments"

Great point! Brown's stop was an example where a robber was caught because he was jaywalking--- andwould have been caught with less violence except that the officer hadn't heard the jaywalker was a robber and didn't take precautions.

Except it's not grand larceny, right--- the value of the stolen goods is far too small. Robbery is a more serious offence though, I think, because of the assault element.

Although the accounts differ, it appears that he took the cigars from "the person" which is the element for grand larcey in common law -- regardless of the value.

You're quite correct that if Missiori changed that requirement the value would not be high enough.

Re: Stopping a jaywalker resulted in a potential arrest for robbery/grand larceny

Even if the cigarillos were stolen, they were worth about $50. That is not grand larceny. Not even close.

I have seen this behavior before, also...people (read: young and sometimes not so young black men) walking in the street rather than on the sidewalk as a demonstration of their "don't give a f***" bona fides or something.

The petty, anti-social nature of this kind of behavior and the level of character it indicates is just...depressing. Al Sharpton should talk about this kind of crap, although not that anyone would really listen to him.

Lotsa white bicyclists cop that attitude, too. And pet owners. And political fundraising motorcades. Motorcyclists.

might I add in the often old rich white folks that cut me off on the highway and then look at me as if they owned the highway and that i was in the wrong by being in a lane they felt was theirs.

Agree that white boomer women are a scourge to humanity.

"old rich white folks" -- What's with the racism? Yikes!

It is funny when someone smurfs my name to make a much more benign comment.

I occasionally think about hitting the white bicyclists, too, when they flout the laws of the public roadways. Does this make you feel better?

Easy, angry tiger, the list isn't exhaustive. The point is that "beggar thy neighbor" rules our public streets, so it's not just black folk who exhibit "The petty, anti-social nature of this kind of behavior and the level of character it indicates." You do, drivers do, college football teams and their police escorts, and the President every time he flies into my town to raise a few million.

The whole mess is why comparisons to Denmark and Sweden are inapt.


You're deploying the fallacious 'tu quoque' argument.

All of the groups you list (and more) are guilty of the same anti-social behavior. I'd love to see them all (presidential motorcades most of all) censured.

This doesn't in any way exculpate the people under original discussion.

Alexei- It's not a fallacious tu quoque argument. The tu quoque effectively undermines the claim that it's a black thang by proving it's an American thang.

In many states, the traffic lane is the legal place for bicycles to be. It comes out of the history of transportation, and that bicycles were actually using the roads before cars were invented. Now, some of you might wish to move the bicycles to sidewalks, and make them pedestrians, but that is not the history or the law.

(Also heard this week that we've now had 1,000,000 rentals from city bicycle programs, with zero fatalities. It works.)

Is it racist to say I hate bicyclists?

No, just fat and stupid.

I often walk down the road when there isn't much traffic.

And obviously there wasn't much traffic because we don't have much in the way of witnesses to clear up what actually happened.

@S - while I respect your tough guy credo of living on the edge (I too have lived in drug-infested neighborhoods in the USA as a white-collar professional making six-figures, and even would stroll the streets after midnight, and lived to tell about it), I wish to point out your fallacy regarding the term "homicide", which, strictly speaking, is killing another, whether legal or illegal (i.e. self-defense or not), see http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Homicide

True, the popular use of the term homicide means illegal killing, but that's not the broadest definition, and AlexT may simply be using the broader term.

Peace! And if you ever despair of life in the USA you can always come to the Philippines, where it's a well-armed and polite society and people only die from poverty.

Fair enough, I stand corrected. I just might take you up on the Philippines invite, but they really should just make poverty illegal, it sounds like a public safety issue :)

Q: Regarding Philippines,

No concerns over kidnapping/ransom? Also, how important is speaking Tagalog?

I think kidnapping is a problem more in the extreme south of the Philippines. I don't speak Tagalog and get by fine since here, unlike Thailand, the girls speak good or fairly good English. There is very little random violence, very little violence over petty stuff, and only theft seems to be a major problem. Plus you can live on 1-2 k a month no problem, even in expensive Manila where I am now (since my gf lives here).

Ask your gf to translate what is on the local evening news sometime. Manila isn't exactly Rio but it also isn't Singapore and those (poorly trained) security guards everywhere exist precisely due to the fact that armed robbery of businesses -- even in broad daylight -- is common. Violence over petty things doesn't typically affect foreign residents who can't speak the language but it certainly does exist and gives the Philippines a consistently higher murder rate than the United States.


The murder rate in the Philippines is pretty decent for a developing country. One third of that of Brazil, for example.

Robbery of businesses isn't really the main concern for a westerner living in a foreign country - mugging, kidnapping, home invasions are more relevant.

Yes, they play "chicken" with cars. It is deliberate and widespread.

This puts themselves and others at risk. It also shows how little they value themselves.

Good piece. Ultimately this conflict is being driven by the reverse of white flight and migration of poor blacks into the inner ring of suburbs. Ferguson is an extreme case of the white establishment clinging to power in a very confrontational and abusive way, the latter part of which you've helped flesh out here.

I've read that although the overall crime rate in Ferguson is low including most black neighborhoods, the corner of Ferguson where this incident occurred is notorious, both for crime and for police trawling for shake down opportunities.

Bottom line: it would be nice if all the outrage didn't happen to follow justifiable homicides.

But, we also can ask why the oppressed class got to a place where they chafe at reasonable requests.

Notice the riots and outrage are over this verified thug and career criminal who indisputably got what he deserved and left the world a better place by his absence, not over the indisputably unjustified choking death of the harmless guy selling cigarettes. Give us Barabbas!

Your rejoicing over someone who "got what he deserved" is quite incongruous with your allusion to the Gospels.

It's only incongruous if you think that the people can't make reference to the events in the New Testament unless they are left wing Christians.

I dont disagree with you C, but, I just have to....

Jesus was about as left wing as any figure I can think of. Jesus was a straight up hippy, minus the free love and drugs.

Jesus’ crucifixion was the most famous example of suicide via cop.

I think the free love and drugs were there two. But they were edited out in later editions....

certainly wine, possibly marijuana (in the form on incense) but the free love... i think not.

Free love is the whole point of starting a cult...

It was instantly pretty obvious even without any facts just from logic the broad strokes of what happened during the shooting (as in the Martin/Zimmerman case). I don't know why certain communities always achieve the wrong logical conclusion. But my main problem is when the facts trickle in and people don't change their tune. In fact, we barely know these days what the story is/was before we are onto the next outrage. Being a community organizer means never having to say you are sorry!

The protests are over the relationship between the government (especially the police) and the community. Where the relations are good, people are much more likely to either trust the government to investigate and come to the correct conclusion or at least use other means to insure that this happens (such as oversight boards, community forums).

This particular shooting is more a trigger than an cause.

Right, they should pick better triggers.

Gee, all of the looting and robbery of local businesses sure makes it seem like this is community vs. government.

By all means, arrest the looters and hold the Koreans on the rooftops harmless, unless you want to give them medals.

The cop did not know he was a suspect, let alone the perp, let alone what he "deserved," only likely that he was a person matching a description, which he ham-handedly executed a stop for jay-walking excuse, which he fucked up badly, though not as badly as he could have fucked up. I know a cop who died in a similar situation.

"this verified thug and career criminal"

The St Louis County Prosecutor has said the Michael Brown shot by Wilson had no prior arrest record. So a few questions if I may:

1. Where has it been "verified" that Michael Brown was a "thug"?
2. Where has it been "verified" that Michael Brown was a "career criminal"?
3. Do you know what the word "indisputably" means? Because I think if you read back through these comments, or watch, read, or listen to any of the coverage of this case at all, I think you'll find the question of whether Michael Brown "got what he deserved" has been disputed almost constantly.

In his first year of legal adulthood, Brown was already a petty thief and bully.

He got ten extra minutes of life because that shopkeeper was a diminutive, unarmed Hindu.

Most people will make up their minds if there's any veracity to the story of the kwap getting his lights punched out. There will probably be pictures like in Zimmerman's case. Some will claim he faked them, as they did with Zimmerman, but there's no hope for those people.

Anyone calling this kid a "career criminal" is definitely trolling

"justifiable homicides"?

Please define. And do so carefully. If you think cops have a RIGHT to play judge, jury and executioner, then we have much bigger problems to deal with.

The guy was unarmed.

I understand that it can be dangerous to be a cop. That sometimes there will be mistakes ... they thought he reached into his pocket for a gun and shot, only to find that he was reaching to get his ID.

Tragedies occur. People can understand these things.

But when cops systematically cover things up, people start to think that it's a cover up every single time.

It is NEVER OK for a cop to shoot an unarmed civilian. Never.

He had both arms.

Why is the possibility that he could have been attacking the officer completely closed off to you?

Frank Varerott isn't a judge.

Neither is the cop.

Yes, he is. Overland Mun. Court.

I stand corrected. I had read of his involvement in McShane's committee report, which noted that he was a practicing lawyer. Can lawyers maintain a practice while on the municipal bench?

It's not clear what the libertarian ideal should be. If cities were privately developed and truly competitive, I would expect many to have similar rules as these which its residents would agree to contractually upon moving there. Perhaps this is an argument for increased home rule. Even still, I suspect there would still be cities that had low income residents who were trapped by harsh punishments for small infractions. What's the good argument against them?

The Finnish approach. Fines are linked to income. So you get traffic infractions which cost $30 or less for poor people, but which can be over $100,000 for the same infraction if the richest man in the country did it, if memory serves right.

I think this is a good take on the situation. I am not typically libertarian but this blog has some good stuff on it.

I do I agree that the number of governmental entities that need to be supported is just insane. We need to start consolidating but of course people are going to fight that tooth and nail. I see that in a west coast community where I own some land.

There are just too many hungry mouths to feed. The 21,000 lower middle class people of Ferguson simply can't support all those hungry mouths on tax revenue so they are getting shaken down.

I like the quote of the day floating around - "Why don't you guys go kill ISIS and leave us alone?"

Re: For a simple speeding ticket, an attorney is paid $50-$100,
the municipality is paid $150-$200 in fines and court costs, and the
defendant avoids points on his or her license as well as a possible
increase in insurance costs. For simple cases, neither the attorney nor
the defendant must appear in court.

Who in the world gets a lawyer for a simple speeding ticket? The few times I've gotten one I just paid the damn thing and that was that. Florida (where I used to live) does have an option to take an online driver improvement course (costing a couple hundred dollars) which excuses any points that would go against one's license.

I don't get a lawyer, but I show up for court. It's to pay the fine, but avoid the points that would have raised insurance.

I got a "reckless driving" charge for speeding 82mph in a 70 in VA (yes, apparently anything over 80mph is automatic reckless driving in VA). When I arrived home I had no less than 10 letters from attorneys offering to appear in court for me.

So, since I have money, I paid the lawyer $100, paid the court $200, and got the charge dropped to "defective equipment".

If I had not paid the lawyer, I would have had to take a day off work, drive three hours to a 9am court appointment in bumf*ck Virginia, and receive anything up to: 12 mo in Jail, 6 mo license suspension, $2500 fine, + up to 6 points on license. And according to the infallible internet, YES, they will actually give you the max penalty.

Option 2: not show up for court, have a warrant issued for my arrest, and probably face the aforementioned max penalties.

So if I didnt have the $300 to take care of it I'd probably be screwed nine ways to sunday.

The reckless driving must be new. I got 57 in a 45 in VA back in 2007, I think, and it was just normal speeding. Was an out of stater so I didn't want to make my way back to try to.get it reduced, so just paid the fine online, maybe $150 total.

It's 20 over or over 80mph (actually 25 over in a 35mph zone)

Even if you get a lawyer you can still end up in jail.


Cracking down on public order offenses is a means to crime control. That aside, those of you clamoring for alternatives to incarceration, this is what you get. Libertarians play shell games like this driven by their adolescent dislike of cops generally.

Wrong. All 3 sentences.

By your theory, this cop fucked up a citizen contact because the dead black guy wasn't jailed in a prior jaywalking arrest. Dumbass theory.

Yeah, James Q. Wilson was a dumbass.

Or just sometimes wrong, irrelevant and inapplicable.

It now seems this case is about a robbery, not jailing someone for jay walking in hopes they are also a violent felon as would be the implication of your theory as stated.

Note how he is a dumbass here:

"Even now, when the dangers of drug use are well understood, many educated people still discuss the drug problem in almost every way except the right way. They talk about the "costs" of drug use and the "socioeconomic factors" that shape that use. They rarely speak plainly—drug use is wrong because it's immoral and it is immoral because it enslaves the mind and destroys the soul.[6]"

Marijuana not do this, at all, to any concerning degree, except MAYBE at the very most in a very small and very easily treatable portion of the population.

So, yeah, allegedly smart people don't have a monopoly on not being a dumbass at times.

If you wake and bake you can pretty much kiss the rest of your day good bye.

And you should be in jail for this why?

(if true, even after adjusting the impact the drug war has had on marijuana potency)

After accepting for argument the ifs and the reducto absurdum.


You shouldn't, just telling it like it is breh

everyone should stick to alcohol. It is much more moral to consume a substance that is toxic, physically addictive, and prone to make one violent and act in ways they dont even remember. This is nothing compared to the alternative which may make you calm, introspective, nonviolent, and overly patient. makes plenty of sense to me.

Opium is a good non-violent buzz too, but its too expensive to maintain. Its an artificial expense though. I'm not aware of what the dynamics behind the Opium War was but there are societal dangers to letting large swathes of the population be drug addicts. Otoh there's plenty of those societal dangers we ignore anyway, so may as well enjoy the ride.

Art Deco keeps bringing up this idea that all manner of things should be used to imprison people on the assumption that it correlates to worse things.

That is the context within which I ask why wake and baking killing your to-do list would make us think one is on the fast track to being a violent criminal.

The question is, if we criminalize behavior we dislike because we assume it correlates with worse behavior, there is no logical end.

Figure out if it is bad (hurts someone else) and if there is a correlation to the worse behavior. With pot there is no significant linkage. With opium, an argument could be made.

I'd guess that his position is that the state has incentive not only to curtail violent crime and imprison violent criminals, but also to discourage anti social behavior like smoking a blunt and then spending all day watching netflix and ordering pizza.

In regards to the problem of people jaywalking or strolling in the middle of the street, that is a public safety issue. I guess it could be argued as a cultural issue as well. I bet some demographics are prone to walking where they aren't really supposed to more than others.

We possibly disagree, but my position is that we criminalize things we don't like more than we criminalize things in order to achieve a logical goal. We're not vulcans after all.

Okay. But then be prepared to lose logical arguments over them

To a point. What Alex is describing is this strategy gone awry, where it becomes the cause of problems.

Is it possible to be low income in a town like Ferguson and be law abiding? An old old policing technique is to harass undesirables so that they move elsewhere.

There is a strategy in labor relations called 'work to rule'. Everything grinds to a halt because the rules are written to do just that. Police to rule can accomplish something if done carefully and with purpose, but police to rule can also create serious problems.

I don't know what the situation in Ferguson was previous to these events, but it seems that something was wrong. The crime statistics weren't out of line.

And yes there is a fine line between everyone going about their business with a minimum of friction and social breakdown.

Ultimately whatever was done in Ferguson failed. Being tougher on jay walkers isn't going to make things better. Maybe something as simple as spending money on police vehicle cameras or officer cameras instead of military fatigues would be more effective. Public dissemination of the events of that night, no matter who was at fault would have diffused the situation.

Ultimately a community is what the inhabitants make it to be. There is a core of people who want to have a decent life, so apply police efforts and resources to make their lives easier and better. Create a benefit to being law abiding. It is a very small town, do the cops know everyone by name? They should. There are people who need some roughing up, and no doubt many in the community would agree, so do it on their behalf, not for some faceless entity somewhere else that doesn't care.

You are giving Art Deco credit here.

All libertarians I talk to ever talk about is how counter-productive things like marijuana laws are by clogging and incapacitation the system from fulfilling his desire.

By the way, do you think people who make their living in this sort of public interest law might be the sort whose factual claims you audit?

I like Prof. Tabarrok's post for its facts, but I wonder at the criticism of fines. Fines are the most efficient form of punishment, if the criminals are affluent enough to be able to pay them. A $200 fine doesn't take away a day of a person's working life.

The only problem is that the city has more incentive to prosecute activities that shouldn't be crimes. That is a political decision, though, and if the citizens don't like having less jaywalking and less taxes, they can vote for more jaywalking and higher taxes.

The problem with fines is that they don't work against poor people or people who refuse to pay and can't be induced to pay. Fines should not be seen as anti-poor---- they are anti-rich, because someone who is poor can just not pay (and won't have a car, or care about another ding on his credit rating).

If the point of fines is to discourage behavior, it should depend on income.

It doesn't matter (to anyone normal) that Bill Gates pays the same amount for the same gallon of milk as I do, but if we want to discourage anyone from a given activity, using fines, Gates and I should pay in amounts to equalize the pain to our pocketbooks.

Fine people by time, not by money. A day or even a half-day in prison would be a suitable alternative to a $200 fine; but the perpetrator must have the right to choose the day (to avoid conflicts with work / school schedule). This also removes the police's perverse incentive to issue huge fines for tiny misdemeanors.

That's how they do it in Finland.

Which I'm sure works great in Finland. If we tried that here, rich people would be unable to drive anywhere due to having half a dozen cops following them around watching for the tiniest violation, while poor people would roar through school zones with impunity.

I'd probably hire a poor person to drive me to work every day, so at least there'd be that.

Ha. Would certainly change car buying.

TC nailed this one. The police in this town should all be fired. They are most certainly abusing their position of power and it is offensive. Nothing is more aggravating than a police force that thinks they are better than the citizens they serve and that uses their power to extract resources from them. Fire them all.

correction... AT nailed this one.

And all the people who hired police. And all the people who hired the people who hired the police.

If you are going to smurf my name, at least make an offensive comment.

I have standards and a reputation to uphold.

Seriously, if there is one rule that should be observed here, it's don't post comments under another commenter's name.

If you want to parody Andrew', a sock puppet like Andrew Prime is allowable.

Tyler/Alex, anything you can do here?

The economics of throwing people in jail for small fines have to be terrible in the individual case -- perhaps someone in criminology can come up with a cost.

Aren't there cheaper solutions to this problem? (wearing ankle bracelets at night so you can go to work but are inconvenienced, for example)

Coincidentally(?) the reruns of both "The Middle" and "Modern Family" on ABC last night involved main characters being arrested for minor stuff (library fines, traffic tickets). Of course if you are a white suburbanite -- particularly the richer characters on Modern Family -- it's a source for comedy, not tragedy.

One question is why? Is there a major disconnect between the taxpayer, voter, and police and legal oversight?

Yes. Voters in lower income areas such as Ferguson are especially rationally ignorant to the problem and the costs are dispersed so it doesn't seem as burdensome to the average taxpayer. Police and legal oversight,who presumably are the concentrated beneficiary, understand this.

And by dispersed I mean they they are dispersed outside of Ferguson with state and federal funding.

I would say Alex at his best, except I'm self aware enough to know it's more like "Alex when he agrees with me." Still, a spot on post.

Wait a second, in your first sentence you say "we don't know exactly what happened" but apparently you already know that two crimes were committed: Jaywalking and homicide. How? are you guessing?

We know what happened. We don't know EXACTLY what happened.

homicide - Legal Definition. The killing of a human being, committed by another. The killing of a human excused by the law as appropriate or necessary; for example, in self-defense. The killing of another by an act of irresponsibility or lack of attention to duty, rather than by intentional act.

"Over the ages, our weapons have grown more sophisticated. With Gotham, we tried a new one: Economics. […] Create enough hunger and everyone becomes a criminal.” - Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman Begins

Just out of curiosity, I'd love to see the sources for the information you quote in this article. The statistics for a lot of the rates seem extremely high. Please let us know where these numbers are arrived from.

I don't know that I buy that the major component of this particular situation is the revenue grab. The largest part of this feels to me like the complete lack of credibility the local police have as fair and moderate enforcers of fair laws. I think this is what you get when nobody in the community believes a word coming out of your mouth because nobody has ever seen an officer actually pay a price for abusive behavior and when that abusive behavior has disproportionate effect on one ethnic group.

Other groups tolerate such behavior because A) it isn't them or their kids and B) there's this crazy notion that society is teetering on the edge even though violent crime is at historical low levels.

I've never heard of any community where minor infractions are not viewed as revenues centres by police.

Let's say you want to have 50 cops on the streets at all times in order to maintain a presence. A litany of small infractions on the books gives them something to do while waiting for "real" problems, and if they can pull in an extra $2M then it will be that much easier at budget time when telling city council how much money they are asking for out of the tax pool and also afford the last raise and the bonuses to the pension, etc. ...

I think it wealthy people want 50 cops on the streets to keep person and property safe, they should pay for it straight up, through property taxes. Cops should be spending their time getting to know the place, not harassing people. Occasional blitzes should suffice to stop most people from traffic violations like running red lights, etc.

Why is everyone whining about paying fines for speeding, court fees for warrants, warrants for not showing up to court etc. And about jawwalking, if a cop tells you to get out of the street because youre walking in the middle, get out of the street. Pretty simple concept. Dont want speeding fines? Dont speed. Dont want warrants? Dont commit crimes. And the cop from ferguson that shot the poor kid may have not been a racist. Im sure he wasnt screaming racial slurs at the kid and then shot him for jaywalking. Get real people.

Why can't everyone just get along?

Why is that people who have some of the most unreal, idealistic opinions about the righteousness of authority so often feel the need to implore others to "get real?"

He shot an unarmed jaywalker and you think he's not racist?

The magnitude of these fines for "3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household" relative to the city budget are striking. What are serious alternative to the fine system? What good examples come from other cities? Any real time experiments?

The "relative to the city budget" piece is misleading, not striking. The variable you are omitting is the size of the city budget. If the county or other government provides many essential services, then the city's budget will be smaller. To the extent that Alex gets his policy preferences enacted into law, the portion of the budget supplied by fines may increase--but that's because he'd shrink the government.

This is a nice example of people looking for facts to back up a position.

Is the amount of revenue raised from fines in Ferguson significantly disproportionate to that in other cities? Alex--and many others, including Walter Olson--say yes. And they say that without doing any comparative work at all.

My peaceful lily-white burg is about the same size as Ferguson. It was named the safest place in a state that neighbors Ferguson's state. It gets about half the amount of revenue that Ferguson gets.

Creve Coeur, MO, which is similar in size to Ferguson, has similar statistics to Ferguson as far as revenue and cases. Noteworthy is that Creve Coeur is not a North County hellhole, but a western St Louis County paradise, with income per capita of nearly $60,000. The two places have in common that they include a busy stretch of Interstate 270.

Alex never stops to think that Ferguson police might get their revenue from speeding and DUI offenses on 270, which would predominately affect non-Ferguson residents. He doesn't consider how much revenue comes from Ferguson's red light cameras, which do not involve interactions with Ferguson police. How does these things affect the stats? Perhaps Alex will tell us.

Arch City correctly notes that most people with money pay more in fines per violation, and pay without the cost of arrest and incarceration. If we're to believe that Ferguson et al are motivated by revenue, we must believe they'd prefer the revenue that comes from the easy targets who pay double? What percentage of their revenue actually comes that way? Alex doesn't say.

I was about to ask for comparative statistics. I can't find any information online however.

Where did you get your information?

Creve Coeur is nearly 80% white, 7% black, and 10% asian.

My gut feeling is that it is more remarkable that Ferguson has such low crime rate than that it has such high municipal warrants. What are the police doing that is keeping crime so low? Or is that crime rate also normal for the demographics of Ferguson?

What are the police doing that is keeping crime so low?

Probably by harassing young, shiftless blacks for everything and anything.

That's how Giuliani cleaned up New York, and how the Justice Department broke the Italian mob.

See http://www.courts.mo.gov/page.jsp?id=2875 for Missouri municipal court statistics.

I think the high municipal warrants mean that many people aren't paying. People get a ticket, they don't show, and they don't pay, so a warrant is issued. The very low clearance rate (see the stats) for Ferguson suggests that, for many, getting a ticket doesn't mean anything--no fine, no payment, no inconvenience--because they don't do anything in response. Ferguson issues a warrant, and no one executes the warrant.

Ferguson is a huge outlier in cases filed for non-traffic ordinance. Creve Coeur is at 1,300 and Ferguson has 12,000. Only two municipalities are higher. Nothing else is close.

The total number of filed cases is about 10% higher in Ferguson than in Creve Coeur. Creve Coeur is significantly higher in traffic, much lower in non-traffic. Creve Coeur also has lower property and violent crime rates.

That's a very good response.

Creve Coeur has a much juicier stretch of I-270 though: People coming from Illinois, or going to illinois. Compare that to the prime target that is the Olive/I-270 intersection, full of people going North to St Charles, South to Balwin/Chesterfield, or just using it to reach either I-70 or I-64. The only reason they are not making even more money on it is that it does get clogged up in rush hour.

Creve Coeur gets most of the West County traffic headed to the airport. Some people speed to the airport.

This story is why MR exists. That's just fascinating. "$321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household" Wow. That's says so much about the community in so many different ways. It quantifies what we mean by "tensions with police".

In other words, an answer to the question: When do economists matter?

And yet it doesn't tell us whether those fines are in fact paid by residents of the city, or whether the warrants are residents of the city. Nor does it put it in comparative terms. What is the amount of fines per household and per resident that you think is appropriate? What is it in your city?

Best Alex post ever. Thanks

Very informative post.

Thanks, Alex.

***You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate***

Mr. Tabarrok should have looked closer at the data he linked to. Ferguson's crimes rate is "about-average" (read: slightly higher than average) for violent crimes. For property crimes Ferguson's rate is almost double the national average (Ferguson: 481.4 / U.S. Average: 266.5).

Property crime include, among other crimes, burglary, larceny, theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, shoplifting, and vandalism. What is not on the list is jaywalking.

Do you get 3 warrants per household from less than double the property crime rate?

Sheep deserve to be sheared. Stop being sheep.

True. Wouldn't be surprised to find that Ferguson regularly elects officials who are shrills for anything pro-civil servant and bloated public expenditures. What comes around goes around.

Alex has to feign ignorance of the real problem. Fines are a major source of revenue because the tax base has moved away. Blacks fled their own black-run municipalities and moved to majority-white Ferguson.

Private sector whites have been moving out as fast as they can unload their underwater houses, and now Ferguson is majority-black. So Ferguson is left with all these ordinances written for white communities with a healthy tax base and a few members who occasionally get out of hand now being enforced by a white public sector on a destitute, high time-preference population who are frequently in violation of white norms of public behavior.

Public sector whites are the last to leave because of the inertia of seniority and vested pensions but eventually they'll leave too. In another few years, Ferguson will be a black mono-culture and the new, all-black police force won't bother confronting intoxicated black men walking in the middle of the street.


Also - you're making a point I'm sure you didn't want to: there aren't a lot of job opportunities for law enforcement in the lower time-preference, majority-white communities where they live.

If you want Sheriff Taylor-policing, you have to have Mayberry-demographics. If you want to keep the older, whiter, conservative norms for public behavior in a younger, high-T, majority-black population, then your police are going to be cracking a lot of heads. If you enact your Sheriff Taylor-policing on your majority-black population, then you will just have to put up with the street crimes and general disorderliness as all the whites with stricter norms for public behavior move away.

This is all really obvious, but everybody has to do backflips around it.

Looks like the comment deletions are beginning. Let's see if this passes muster:

You're also making a point you probably didn't intend: there aren't as many opportunities for LEO jobs in the low time-preference communities where the police live. Bottom line, if you want Sheriff Taylor-policing, then your town better look like Mayberry. If you want Mayberry norms from a non-Mayberry population, then your police are going to be cracking a lot of heads. If your non-Mayberry town does do Sheriff Taylor-policing, then the low time-preference people with stricter norms for public behavior will move away.

This is all pretty obvious, but everybody has to do backflips around it.

Internet hiccup. My mistake, and apologies.

"Blacks fled their own black-run municipalities and moved to majority-white Ferguson."

And it's a good guess that, before long, Ferguson will be a black-run municipality, and that a few years later blacks (especially the ones with something on the ball) will start fleeing Ferguson.

Maybe harassment of blacks by the police is a way that whites try to slow down this process of blacks driving whites out of their communities.

Fortunately all those housing sales and real estate commissions add to the GDP :D

I self describe as a libertarian leaning liberal. I might identify as left libertarian, except that (at least upon the evidence of the typical internet comment thread), libertarians are the worst people on the planet and I do not want to be identified with them.

In an exact parallel to the Trayvon Martin farce, we now know that the shooting victim was beating the living crap out of the guy with the gun.

You left that part out between "jaywalking" and "homicide."

We do? Was he using the Force, or what? How, exactly, do you beat the crap out of someone from a couple of dozen feet away?

Tyler, why do you bother with a comments section?It just acts as a magnet for the teatard brigde. The article was excellent, but the teatards have enough outlets as it is without you providing a platform.

Well punk, which are you? A TeaTard... Or a ShitLib?

And your ad hominem added what exactly?

IOW, police do white flight as well. The mayor is white, or maybe high-yella. He's also Republican, so he's definitely vestigial of a majority-white population. City council is 3 whites, 2 blacks. Police chief, white.

There is a town near where I live that is famous as a speed trap. They turned traffic fines and court fees into their biggest sources of revenue, then set up a debtor's prison for those that were too poor to pay the fines and fees. A judge finally shut them down in 2012.



Ferguson, MO does do that. The article notes that "a decade or two ago, many states abandoned pursuing misdemeanor fees because it was time-consuming and costly." Does Ferguson, MO pursue misdemeanor fees despite the fact that they are "time-consuming and costly" to pursue? If so, what's the economic logic?

I'm sorry, Tyler, but if you punch a policeman in the head so hard as to fracture his skull, I'm not willing to call the policeman's self-defence a "homocide". At least not until an investigation has concluded.

You are a hateful man.

A homicide is the death of a person by another person which is what happened. Tabarrok didn't say it was a criminal act.

If that is in fact what happened, then why was this not trumpeted internationally from the very first moment?

If his skull got broken and this was not immediately trumpted internationally as having been caused by the guy he SHOT, I suspect that they cracked his skull after he got back down to the station, or perhaps days later, as some sort of excuse.

Really, if his skull got cracked, they would have mentioned this straight away.

So you don't know what a homicide is, or who wrote the post, and you're angry that someone you can't identify wrote something you don't understand the meaning of?

You're an idiot.

AT always has the most incendiary posts.

Bryan's radical solution to PART of these problems.

1. Fines do NOT go into any treasury - all fines MUST be distributed evenly to the population of the US OUTSIDE of the state in which the fine was assessed. So yes you can fine somebody $250 for speeding, but the money goes into a pool that goes into the pockets of the *citizens* of the other 49 states. In short, fines, fees, permits, etc. are NOT EVER ALLOWED TO BE A REVENUE SOURCE. The point of this is to tone down the extractive nature of government. Court and "justice" fees are banned.

1A. In my fantasy world, noone can ever be commtted to prison without a jury trial. Not a right to one, an actual unwaveable trial. Further, there would be no pleading - everybody is effectively "pled" not guilty. It is the explicit intent of this to make imprisoning or jailing people expensive, to force the airing of the relevent facts, to force some amount of public attention to the matter. And to make it too painful to imprison people for things that arent' really serious.

1B. Also part of my fantasy world, government must ALWAYS pay all real and actual defense costs for anyone acquitted - the point being to make it explicitly expensive and painful to prosecute for effect.

2. Taxes should be set on a state wide basis, preferably by periodic referendum, and then jurisdictions get their funding according to formula. So Ferguson, with X people and Y square miles would get Z dollars. And that's *IT* period. In my extreme model there would be no way for them to ever get or spend another dime. But all jursidictions would be assured a comparable level of funding, since the tax base is always large (a state) rather than small (some little town that probably shouldn't be a different jurisdiction anyway.) This would remove some of the randomness where a town that happens to have a shopping mall gets to spend more per citizen than the neighboring town that doesn't.

I like your fanstsy world.

I agree with parts of this post, but two questions.
1. If its the community that is frustrated why were 75 of the 78 arrested not residents?

2. If Ferguson is so bad for blacks, why do they keep on moving there?

For question # 2, two words: Family ties. Everyone has family, and some families are tighter knit than others. If your aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc. happen to live in a less socioeconomic-advantaged zip code, but that's all the living space you can afford, you pay rent near where they do, and you live there as well.

If you can afford to move away, you very likely will. I moved away, but a lot of my family and extended family all live within 50 miles of each other (better than 80%).

And since it apparently needs repeating:

Willman's Rule of Riots - Riots such as have arisen in Ferguson are prima fascia proof that the circumstances and institutions are profoundly fouled up, regardless of the nature of the incident that provokes them.

So - even if we suppose that when all facts are known neutral observers will judge the shooting a sad but entirely legal and appropriate act, the shooting itself AND the riots that followed are proof positive that the institutions of Ferguson (and elsewhere) are profoundly broken.

Focusing on the quite plausible argument that maybe the slain person acted in a way to justify his being slain, and that's the whole story, is profoundly disingenuous.


Actually WE must always remember, but ME is included.

I thought my first question was more interesting, especially considering you following post.

Only 3 of the 78 people arrested were from Ferguson. Does not sound like pent up frustration of the folks living there.

Meant as a reply to you r 12:49 pm post below.

TMC - I don't comment on your sensible question #1 because I don't know.
But it is the sort of thing that bears investigation....

That is a good run at the numbers, Alex. "$321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household" is more than worrying, it is obviously a problem.

@TMC - re your #2 - (legitimate question) - why does anybody ever move to an awful place?

The answer is that in the real world people's lives are often very constrained, something I call "pinned."
As in, they moved to be near their only sane relatives, they moved to the only place they could afford, they moved near the only job they could get, they moved to the best place they could afford away from some worse place, etc. etc.

The core critique of the modern debtor's prison has merit but some of these points are a stretch: citing the Michael Brown issue as a simply jaywalking offense that escalated into a homicide is completely ridiculous and Alex should know better. Also, the core arguments seem to be ethnicity neutral, so why does Alex mention ethnicity several times?

Why? As it appears it was a jaywalking offense that escalated to a shooting.

Why? Alex offers the possibility of underlying tensions between police and citizens and offers the possible reason being an overzealous policing policy motivated partly by revenue extortion.

Speculative but also all known issues.

You, and the OP, are being daft. You know that Brown committed a violent crime, other citizens requested involvement, and a confrontation with law enforcement was completely inevitable regardless of jaywalking laws.

Getting back to the economic analysis for a moment, there could be a problem with looking at fines on a per capira basis. I would guess that not all the recipients of the fines are residents of Ferguson. It will depend on whether non-residents are likely to be in the area and likely to be committing traffic violations.

I live in London. The City of London (financial district and autonomous area for local government purposes) has one of the highest crime rates per capita in the UK. This is not because it's especially dangerous, but because the population is tiny. The residential population is less than 10,000, but there are 300,000 people who work there, plus tourists, customers of businesses and other visitors. The train from one of London's major airports terminates in the City. So you could have international tourists pickpocketed while waiting in the train station for a train to the airport who have no other connection with the locality. When you go to calculate the per capita crime rate, it looks enormous, but actually it's mostly not crimes committed against those residents.

Without knowing more about the people getting the fines and their place of residence, it's hard to conclude the level of fines per capita is out of line.

That said, I think the state of the US criminal justice system where the rich can buy their way out and poor people go to jail for being poor is inhumane and not worthy of the vales the US purports to uphold.

So nobody has any evidence that Michael Brown was a "career criminal" then?

Good job you can't libel a dead person!

He was a gentle giant.
On his way to college.
Never hurt anybody, ever.

Maybe, maybe not. I don't know so I'd never make that claim.

On the other hand at least two people have baldly asserted he was a "career criminal". Now I don't know for certain whether that is false or not either, but if people are going to make such serious allegations I think they ought to be able to back it up with something. Especially when the allegation is made to bolster the argument that a person who was shot to death deserved it.

Medieval spectacle a la Foucault: the punishment as evidence of guilt.

I think we can agree, the only winner in all this is the inept former FEMA director Michael Brown.

I'm surprised anyone is found guilty. Logically, you would think anyone who ever got a ticket would automatically vote not guilty in any matter before them for life. I would also find the city civilly liable for more than 2.6M if they interfered with someone's right to remain within the park easement.

Easy answer: Cops overreacted, then cops overreacted again.

So much calm can be created with a calm voice which projects peaceful confidence. Police, as human being, are theoretically capable of pulling this off, but perhaps not so easily when donning kevlar vests and pointing guns at unarmed people.

More often, stress and anxiety immediately escalate the moment cops enter the scene, not so much due to their position as cops, but due to increasingly alienating and aggressive demeanours which communicate lack of trust through demands for immediate deference to, or respect for, authority, while the agent representing this authority has entered the scene in a disrespectful manner.

Lack of respect is at the root, I would argue. Respect comes from the heart, while the politest language in the world can provide cover for the most profound and dirtiest of disrespect.

Instead of a cop entering a scene and asking "Why is he soo angry?" in a genuinely inquisitive voice which can lead to a sense that they desire to understand the situation, will instead enter the situation shouting, itching to draw their firearms, ... you get the picture.

Imo, when things escalate, most often the police are the problem. They should be trained to de-escalate, not to project authority. Because when you give a high school graduate 1-2 years of training in a police academy then start handing out kevlar vests and guns, they will abuse that authority, and people will not respect them.

Apologies to the majority(?) of police who this does not apply to. But if it applies to only 10% of cops, that is unacceptable. Perhaps 1% or even 3% (who on some given day are complete )(Q#$T&(&*^s is OK, understanding that maybe a few get through when they shouldn't have, or that some personal issues lead them to become a little less sensible at some stages.

Respect can lead to peace. Know this, and you will be safe in all manner of places that you are warned not to go (well, don't count on it, but it helps).

Respect can lead to peace. This should be internalized in police training, imo. At the end of the day, a police officer has to do his job. All the understanding of social issues in the world should not prevent the cop from arresting someone following a break-in, for example. But if the cop is willing to internalize an understanding of the complex social issues involved, then perhaps he will be that little bit more respectful, and you won't get situations where jaywalking --> homicide --> race riots --> ??? (please someone start thinking sensibly!)

"Easy answer: Cops overreacted, then cops overreacted again."

Seems like you left some things left out, no?

I'm not sure what your credentials are or if you have experience working in a high crime area. But "Respect can lead to peace..." strikes me as naive.

I worked night shifts at a gas station in east end Hamilton (Ontario) in the 1990s. I worked nights at a hostel a couple blocks from the entertainment district in Toronto at a time when the area was known for knifings and shootings. I have actually walked through at least one (maybe two, depending on definition) revolution, a coup d'etat, and the dark side of many cities in the world.

How did I do it, unarmed, and alone? I respected people everywhere I went. They respected me back.

Probably this seems unlikely to you because you are incapable of showing respect to people with elevated skin melatonin, or project fear and it feeds back.

lol, you have no idea what it's like in a hood like Ferguson you idiot, lol canadians, didn't you see what this fat thug did to that clerk?

Yes, having worked in some "bad" neighborgood in CANADA provides great insight into what black neighboorhoods are like in the US...

Jaywalking is not a crime in my country.

That said, Alex's article this seems like an indictment that there some areas of America which are just *so* dumb and *so* poor that light regulations – e.g. the speeding tickets which Alex seems to boo at here - which normally have the effect of keeping an urban area civil, clean, neat and safe (contra Libertarian fantasies), have the effect of sending inhabitants only into further penury, and no bright side.

Not exactly an indictment of regulation, but an indictment of the futility of trying to regulate people who are too poor and dumb to be regulated that way. What works in Singapore or Helsinki, apparently not much use in Ferguson.

Perhaps the message is to eat more cheap chalupas and readjust to something more along the lines of Lagos.

Lot of ignorance in the post and the comments. A bunch of just plain stupid in some of the comments.

How 'bout we wait til all the facts are in?

Tell that to Ferguson.

Does anyone have any evidence that the cop was citing Brown for jaywalking? Do people in this thread really have a problem with a cop telling someone to get out of middle of the street?

Is it okay to smash in the face of a cop for telling you to get out of the street?


The whole "cops are hunting down innocent Black men" story pretty much evaporated when the footage of the convenience store robbery was released. So now they need another justification. Because "everyone else but us is the problem."

I don't care if he was innocent. He was unarmed.

Police are not judge, jury and executioner, and if there is popular disagreement on the matter, then perhaps things need to get bloody before they will get better.

The police need to ask themselves some hard questions, and then clean up.

Other liberals have made essentially the same stupid comment a dozen times already here. I understand the perspective, self defense is not justifiable, and one White man unjustifiably killing a Black man justifies looting a bunch of stores own by Whites and non-Black immigrants. But tell me this, do you actually think you could win the war?

With PC ideologies(liberalism, neoconservatism, left libertarianism) it is all about inverting reality to make aggressors into victims. So that instead of asking why a certain subset of the American population produces so much crime, you are supposed to sympathize with the criminals, as they are expected to *gasp* pay their fines.

No. The point is there is a bell curve to police enforcement and some places are high on the bell curve in they are policed out of proportion to their need for policing. This causes resentment.

It's not the jaywalking that resulted in a homicide, it is assaulting a police officer and trying to grab a gun which did so. I've been stopped for minor things such as having my high beam on. When the policeman told me to turn it off I did, and I was soon on my way.

A cop shot a guy, and you're taking their word at face value that the guy who got shot was assaulting them, despite a complete lack of evidence.

12 witnesses who said the cop was attacked mean nothing?
Your comments are idiotic.

The grabbing the gun part seems a tad shaky as it stands as of now.

But the officer's fractured eye socket is solid.

Maybe, or maybe it's not fractured.

Looking for a study on the effect of police living in their jurisdiction (a la Andy Griffith) on community-police relationships and the use of force by police. Ferguson is no Mayberry but seems local-living police would be more hesitant to use deadly force on a neighbor or son of an acquaintance.

IOW, if you want Mayberry-policing, you need Mayberry-demographics.

Blacks and whites have different norms of public behavior. Ferguson is a vestigial white public sector enforcing white norms, except that all the whites have moved away. In a few years when Ferguson is a black mono-culture, thuggish public behavior won't raise an eyebrow with the new, all-black police force.

At that point, presumably, Ferguson will experience a renaissance as countless liberal and libertarian businesspeople flock to Ferguson to take advantage of its untapped human capital and relaxed policing.

Alex, this is one of the best posts of yours I've read. It clarifies for me why the narratives of both the left and the right on Ferguson seem so off target.

And it's a shame that, out of the few dozen comments I had the stomach to read, virtually none of them actually respond to the issue you raise. What is it about race and crime that turns intelligent people into idiots?

Fear, pure and simple

Nathan W = another pasty white libertarian putting on his Defender of Brown People cape so he can pretend he's like Superman. In case you haven't been reading the news the last few days, the "gentle giant" story is taking a beating.

So many comments, so little wisdom.

Seems to me that America's moving in the direction of the old South African model: capitalism for the Brits/upper-class, socialism for the Afrikaners/middle-class and fascism for the blacks/lower-class. American multinationals are highly competitive and extremely well-managed, but how many jobs has the tech boom created for people with an IQ below 120? The middle-class stays propped up from transfer payments of various means: medicare and subsidized health insurance, tax credits of various stripes, overpaid government jobs, pension guarantees, government mortgage rate subsidies, various protected industries, etc. The lower classes also receive a a lot of transfer payments, but they also are much more exposed to the heavy hand of the state.

That being said, I'm not sure if one can really criticize the model. Over the past two decades it's been largely successful in its goals. Lower-class troublemaking and crime rates have plummeted. Unlike many other developed countries America's remained highly competitive in the face of low-cost globalization. Finally its largely been achieved in a way that the median America probably enjoys a higher living standard than virtually any other country.

This article is simply another hijacking of the tragic death of Michael Brown to forward an agenda, in this case an attack on the court system of Ferguson and the officers of that court system, the Ferguson Police Department.

First, the article begins on a false premise because there was no "stop for jaywalking." According to reports the office asked the men to move out of the street and when they did not he drove forward and stopped. At this point he received a radio call about the strong armed robbery the 6'3" 250 lb Michael has just committed. Also according to reports the deceased assaulted the office and broke his eye socket when the office tried to question Mr. Brown about the robbery. So jaywalking has nothing to do with "the stop." If the radio call about the robbery hadn't come in then there probably wouldn't have been a stop.

Second, according to reports the homicide is completely justifiable so using the term homicide instead of justifiable homicide is again a false premise. They are not synonymous.

Third, the first two false premise go to my original point. The author is simply hijacking this tragic death to discuss his agenda concerning the Ferguson courts and officers of that court.

An honest intellectual would have left Michael Brown completely out of this article. Shame on you Alex.

Nope. We don't yet know if the homicide is justified. And while your comment is largely good, you also misunderstood Alex's point with Brown.

If there is no resentment, Brown possibly doesn't assault the cop. If no resentment, town possibly doesn't jump to conclusions.

You know, when there are really successful TV shows, a lot of time there are spin-offs. Somehow this post puts me in the mind of that idea.

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Is there any evidence that it is the citizens of Ferguson who primarily pay all those fines and court fees? Perhaps there's, say, a highway that goes through Ferguson where people like to speed?

After reviewing conviction records every day for the last few years, I can tell you that there are no consequences for failing to pay court fees in California.

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Let's say for example you have been laid off from your job and you are worried that you won't find
a new job. Gaelige is taught in most schools but is rarely spoken, being eschewed for English in most common life.

Thank you Alex for bringing this to the forefront for those of us who didn't really understand the situation. This is the kind of background and context that is needed, and a FANTASTIC post. Thanks again.

Did any of you see him rob a clerk??? Oh wait no you saw stills of an interaction leaving the store with someone who didn't even work there... When you watch the video he makes a purchase (of the cigars he had supposedly stolen) and on his way out bumps into a guy, words are exchanged (rather common when someone bumps into you), and he exits the store... Regardless of any of the Fox News and St. Louis police departments made up stories (which are all illocical and bullshit) even of they were true they're all not offenses that warrent being shot... There's been a ton of spin in order to try and get away from that face but assault and petty theft (not strong armed robbery) don't warrent being shot... And I'm sorry but if that cop getting punched in the face (also complete bullshit speculation that there is absolutely no photo evidence of) made him fear for his life then he a) should throw out his man card, b) turn in his badge, and c) learn how to take a punch... I'm sorry but if getting punched justifies murder then I'd've killed plenty of people in my life time... Grow up and recognize the situation instead of blindly following media garbage...

After reading ALL of these comments I only understand one thing. We have all forgotten that we are all Kings, we are Queens, we are all brothers,we are all sisters. We have came along way only to go backwards. We need to cut the Shit and realize we have lost our way for the sake of our children and humanity for the greater good.

I think a lot of what you are saying is legit and should probably be looked at (although for ferguson specifically I would like to see how much of that was for people who don't live in town), but from the courts perspective, if there were zero consequences for not paying tickets, many many people just wouldn't bother.

I do question who actually uses a lawyer for speeding ticket... Are you trying to say its mo specific because it's hardly common. Had many and never have I done that. Speed trap towns usually charge the most for tickets around here and when I got one they specifically told me it would not go on my record. But those often mainly trap people passing though.

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WOW! Have read nearly every comment - and am hoping that most of the voices are not regular readers of MR. Race, race, race.
When the story first broke I thought it was about cops being overly quick on the draw: Don't shoot! Then it became a race issue.
The paper that Alex finds interesting suggests that the blow-up in Ferguson may be correlated with an oppressive,in fact, application of law.
Peoples have been rioting for years. Quite frequently it seems that it is correlated with the administration of law.

Not sure if applicable here but there may also be pressure on authorities to make arrests in order to provide volume for private prisons. Some US states/munis have gone private on prisons and some of the contracts penalize the municipality if the prison population drops below certain threshold.

All of these comments appear to find it unexceptional and perfectly normal that a police officer routinely carried and used a gun. If the police officer did not have a gun, it would not have been used and a man would not now be dead. Fact.
Here is a new 'normal' for you to think about; ordinary police officers patrol unarmed. There, I unleased a truly heretical meme into your blog space
Ireland survived a 20 year civil war on its borders without arming its police (exception for special armed units responding to violent acts). Ireland is not alone among democracies in this policy. On the whole. the Irish police, called the Guards (or Gardai in Irish), are respected and obeyed by the general population.

It is well time that US citizens rethink their love affair with firearms. Whatever security benefit it may bring to some individuals is negated by the violent culture it breeds.

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