This System Tramples on Poor People

Today the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of  poor people who were jailed by Biloxi, Mississippi, because of their failure to pay traffic tickets. The lawsuit is the latest action in the pushback against the national problem of modern day debtors' prisons, where people are required to go to jail when they can’t afford to pay the tickets or fines. Below two of our clients, girlfriend and boyfriend Qumotria Kennedy and Joseph Anderson, explain how being sent to prison for small fines and fees can dramatically alter people’s lives for the worse without any public benefit.

Qumotria Kennedy

I was a passenger in a car with a friend one day in July when a police officer pulled us over. The officer ran my name for warrants, made me step out of the car, and put handcuffs on me.

From there he took me to the Biloxi police station and then to jail. At the police station, they told me I would have had to pay $1,001 in cash to get out. That was what I owed in traffic fines and fees that I hadn’t been able to pay. They didn’t bring me to court, give me a lawyer, or even tell me that I had a right to one. 

I didn't have the money. I was sad, upset, and crying. I’m a single mom, so I knew I’d have to be in jail and leave my daughter with my friend. My daughter didn’t even know where I was or what happened for an entire night.

No one told me how long I’d be in jail. Each day, I was wondering when I would see my daughter or be brought to court. In the end, I was locked up five days.

When I was in jail, I lost my part-time job. Now I’m just on call as a cleaning person, so I only go to work once or twice a week. I’m struggling on so little.

Now they want me to pay hundreds of dollars a month for my fines and fees. But I just don’t have the money. I asked the probation officer if I could do community service instead, but she said there was nothing she could do.

I owe so much money that I can’t pay. Every day, I worry that I could get arrested and sent back to jail. 

I decided to bring a lawsuit against Biloxi because I don’t like what the city is doing to people. All it cares about is money. Biloxi locked me up for being poor. But it costs them money to keep me in jail. So this system doesn’t even make any sense.

I hope that everybody knows that the system is trampling on poor people, and it’s not fair.

Joseph Anderson

Joseph Anderson

When I got a $200 traffic ticket, I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay it. I made a payment or two from my disability checks, but I was living on so little, I couldn’t pay any more. The Biloxi police issued a warrant on me, but I didn’t know. The police knocked on my door, reached inside, and grabbed me.

My stepson was there, and it felt embarrassing. I felt ashamed because I was always preaching to him about staying out of trouble and here is this police officer who knocks on my door, handcuffs me, and arrests me.

When he put handcuffs on me, it really hurt. My health was really bad. Just a few years before, I had multiple heart attacks and a stroke in just a couple of months.

When Biloxi police arrested me for fines and fees, I wasn’t well. After the heart attacks and stroke, I became physically disabled. I can’t work because my mobility and strength are not what they used to be. Before, I was working at Best Western doing maintenance and mechanic work. Now I’m just living one day at a time. 

I get my Social Security check and pay my bills, and what I have left of that I try to buy gas. It’s hard making ends meet.

When the police took me to jail, they said I could pay $220 in cash for my release. I felt bad because I didn’t have anyone to call who could lend or give me the money. I had just gotten off walking on my crutch, and I really wasn’t functioning right. The food was disgusting. There was a blanket with holes in. They kept me in jail for seven nights.

Do I want to help other people by suing Biloxi? Heck yeah. It’s terrible here. I’m not afraid to go public with how the city is trying to get money from people who just don’t have it.

I hope this lawsuit will help make the system better. I hope people don’t get arrested and jailed for back fines like I did. 

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Ann Williamson

Thank you. The ACLU does a great job of playing both sides of the fence for their own financial benefit. Who gets the big payouts when they win a suit? Not the person whose rights have been trampled on.

Anonymous

It will be a sheeples' paradise. Those who are lucky will get jobs guarding the new criminalized classes. This status they will enjoy for newly legislated victimless crimes because corporate America needs workers who will work for peanuts. It is much easier than dealing with the uppity Chinese or Indians who want more money for their labor. Those who are lucky will invest in private prisons and putting half of the rest of the peasantry in jail where they will get a place to sleep when not working in the prison factory and be victimized and the other half guarding these inmates for work. Meanwhile, church leaders and the media will preach about obedience to authorities. The people will agree it is good and those who do not will be called fringe and bad.

Anonymous

Yes, the system is flawed. But...if you CHOOSE not to be cited for traffic violations in the first place, you won't have to worry about this and can continue to try and better your life. Now, because the criminal justice system is incredibly corrupt and law enforcers have been turned into revenue collectors, you'll have to be very diligent in avoiding fines. (make sure and check those TWO tiny light bulbs on each side of your license tag because if one is out, get ready for a $100 fine! And make sure your passengers all have seat belts--another $100 for you and them, etc). Don't give the corrupt system a reason to attempt to collect more money. Btw--probation officers are part of the corrupt criminal justice system.

Ann Williamson

I was a financial supporter of the ACLU and have always been actively involved in civil rights causes, but when the same happened to me (a white female), the ACLU said they do not address these EXACT types of cases. The only conclusion is the ACLU is a hypocritical organization that discriminates against other people because somewhere, they are getting paid hugely to do so.

Anonymous

Wall breakers need to be responsible for their actions. I'm 51 years old , and only ever have one non-moving violation in my life. I went down and immediately paid the ticket. Seems like the laws are not very hard to follow for some people.

Anonymous

Parking tickets are usually cheaper and you had the money to pay. The two in the article would have paid if they could have paid.

Anonymous

I HAVE NEVER had a moving violation TICKET in my life. I have been driving since I was 22 and I turn 50 this month. I have been pulled over for not having insurance. THAT I could not afford since I was unemployed. I paid that ticket. THEY put state ADDITIONAL state fines on top of the 400 dollar ticket...500 dollar which would mean my license was superseded. I was pulled over for a insurance check again. I had insurance but the guy told me my license was suspended because the additional fines ARE YEARLY FOR 5 years. I was NOT making but 10 dollars an hour. So that meant that I did not have the money for both the ticket and my insurance and all my other bills. So I paid the ticket and dropped the insurance. ANOTHER insurance check pull over and guess what... It is starts all over again. YOU can never get out from under this once you are in. IT is like a revolving door. And it is done by the government who cuts the taxes of the super rich.

lucilaborbononymous

Vivo en calexico ca aqui no hay ley solamente quedan 3. O. 4 policias vino el f b i. Los allaron todos corruptos pero si nomas fueran al sherriff dep de aqui del el centro calif apenas les pucieron camara escriben lo que ellos quiere mi hijo esta en medical dep y no me dejan verlo hasta. Manana segun entro a la carcel el 24 de nov y despues de volarlo hasta san diego ca hospital todabia castigado nadien me escucha ni el board of supervisers todos son compadres en este pueblo chico aqui "No Hay LEYvengan a investiga r por favor ayudaaaaaa

Anonymous

We need a , "National Quit Work for a Day". Bring economy to a screeching halt.

Anonymous

are you people serious??? I got a real simple solution.. stop breaking the law. All I hear on this blog is a bunch of crying and finger pointing. If you cant afford to drive a car and provide insurance then stop driving. Take the bus, stop breaking the law. very simple instructions

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