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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Laurette Reiff

Please take a look at ordinances in Boulder, CO which criminalize homelessness/being poor in the same way. Boulder is a very economically stratified community that views itself as progressive. In fact, politicians and police here really feel that rich people shouldn't have to look at poor people. Much of the existing middle class has had to move so their opinion is no longer felt to be relevant.

Anonymous

No surprise here, sad to say.

Critter

This town needs to be renamed to kkk racist town

Anonymous

What were the tickets for?

Ann Williamson

In the female's case, being a poor minority while being a passenger in a car.

TRON

This is a sign of the times all of us have to realize that somehow, someday, somewhere we'll be arrested for something and have to work it out. Need to be prepared for it, my wife and I keep a hoody jacket in the car at all times because jails are so cold. Have a lawyer on hand that you can call or ask for one right away. And if at all possible have some kind of fund to draw on. I know how hard it is right now I have to skip meals as it is. First and foremost understand your rights and fight for them. Enough is enough and it has to stop, but I'm afraid it will be worse before better. Hang on and hang in folks

Ann Williamson

Right...Everybody can afford a private attorney. If you can, you will not be subject to this treatment...idiot.

Anonymous

This sort of incarceration is unjust to the max.....there are other ways.....such as working off the fines.....get with the times Biloxi......there are many poor......ill ppl......most poor because they have become a victim of injustice.

Steve

So pay your bills. I get tired of seeing people neglect responsibilities to fund their wants. If you have trouble paying your bills, cut back and by all means, follow the law. If you can't pay traffic tickets, Do not get them. This country sucks. We do whatever we want when we want and when someone tries to hold us responsible, we sue them.. RIDICULOUS!

Ron

How do you know these people were buying "wants" You do not, that just fits the narrative your driving. Also I am sure you have never gone 5mph over the limit,signal every single lane change, come to a full stop at every stop sign.
Additionally, the cost to send police out to arrest someone and then jail them for a few days is greater then the fine in the first place. But then you could hit them with charges for that also. Then they could be paying 40%of their income to the state.

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