California Unfairly Targets Poor, Minority Drivers, Report Finds

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area reviewed records in Northern and Southern California, finding that poor communities face higher rates of license suspension related to failing to appear or pay fines, penalizing residents for their poverty. The report also finds that black and Latino drivers were disproportionally arrested for driving with a suspended license and warrants related to their inability to pay tickets and court fees.

“What can be a minor hassle for one driver can have devastating and lasting consequences for another,” the report states, adding that “too often the difference in the impact of traffic citations comes down to race and class.”

Though the official numbers have not yet been released, the report shows other California cities have repeatedly shown black and Latino drivers are more likely to be pulled over by police and receive a citation that could turn into years of consequences.

“The troubling result is that this kind of intensified policing and racial profiling of people of color means black and Latino people are more likely than white people to get traffic citations despite the fact that there is no documented difference in driving behavior,” the report states.

To make the system fair for all Californians, the report calls for driver’s licenses to be suspended only for safety reasons — not to punish people unable to pay fines.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights are calling for a cessation of arrests for unpaid fines or failing to appear in court. They encourage police to conduct traffic stops and other enforcement more fairly across lines of income and race. The group also wants courts to assess a person’s ability to pay when deciding on fines.

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