It’s Still Dangerous to Drive While Black in Ferguson

By Shani Saxon Aug 06, 2019

On August 9, it will be five years since Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. The New York Times reports that there is still a lot of work to do in the town when it comes to the issue of race and policing. Black drivers, according to the Missouri attorney general’s annual report on traffic stops, are “getting stopped, ticketed and fined at higher rates than people of other races.”

Following Brown’s death, St. Louis County residents discovered traffic tickets were being issued primarily to Black people to finance city services. Those who couldn’t afford to pay the fines were jailed. The latest numbers show that it’s “a disparity that has actually grown in Ferguson despite changes—including a new state law—that have greatly reduced the number of traffic tickets, fines and arrest warrants issued,” according to The Times.

The outlet pulled the following data from the Missouri attorney general’s report:


Statewide, Black motorists were nearly twice as likely as other motorists to be stopped, based on their share of the driving-age population…. White drivers were stopped 6 percent less than would be expected. In Ferguson, the disparity in traffic stops of Black drivers has increased by 5 percentage points since 2013, while it has dropped by 11 percentage points for White drivers.

Jason Armstrong, Ferguson’s new police chief, told The Times that it’s important to focus on the positives changes that have been made since Brown’s death, noting that the number of Black officers in the Ferguson department has grown from four to 21. “At the end of the day, how are people being treated,” Armstrong said. “Does the officer treat you like you are a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a husband, a wife? Do they treat you professionally? That’s the biggest part of it to me.”

Blake Strode, the executive director of ArchCity Defenders, spoke to The Times about ticketing practices in Missouri. “I can’t say things have gotten better,” he said. “I understand the status quo to be one of structural racism, poverty, overinvestment in the carceral system, and policing and prosecution. That is as real today in 2019 as it was five years ago in 2014.”