By Michael Harriot, The Root
While you’re probably familiar with the phenomenon of “driving while black,” a new investigation on Chicago police officers’ tendency to issue multiple tickets for the same parking violations has ushered in a new, absurd phrase into the cultural lexicon. We shall call it “not driving while black.”
WBEZ and ProPublica Illinois analyzed a decade of data on tickets issued by the city of Chicago and found tens of thousands of incidents where officers issued two, three and four tickets to the same vehicle on the same day, sometimes minutes apart.
Although the city says this is all due to a bug in their technology (because ticketing software can’t tell whether or not an automobile has already been ticketed), the investigation revealed that Chicago police officers seem to engage in this unethical practice more often in black neighborhoods.
Apparently, the “bug” in their software is racism.
Although the city of Chicago is 29.3 percent black and 32.6 percent white, every neighborhood where residents receive an outsized number of duplicate tickets is more than 80 percent black and less than 5 percent white. The whiter the neighborhood, the lower the chances that the white supremacist ticketing software will issue a duplicate violation.
And it seems like that the city has known about that racist glitch for years because 87 percent of the duplicate tickets are automatically thrown out when they are contested. But that process involves showing up to a hearing or submitting a written statement or evidence to an administrative law judge.
According to a report by the Woodstock Institute (pdf), a nonprofit specializing in fair financial policy, the unpaid tickets can lead to increased fines, vehicle impounding, license suspensions, income tax refund garnishment, employment prohibition and even bankruptcy.
The Woodstock report also highlights a few not-so-surprising statistics:
- Ticket recipients in low-to-moderate income (LMI) and minority neighborhoods were twice as likely to file for bankruptcy than violators in other neighborhoods.
- Drivers from LMI and non-white zip codes were more likely to have their driver’s license suspended for failure to pay tickets than drivers from non-LMI and non-white zip codes
- In 2016 and 2017, Chicago asked the Secretary of State to suspend 8,202 licenses for failure to pay tickets. Most of these suspensions were for people who lived in non-white and low-to-moderate zip codes.
- The federal court for the Northern District of Illinois leads the nation in Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings. Between one-third and half of Chapter 13 filers are filing because local governments have suspended, or are threatening to suspend, their driver’s licenses or seize their cars because they have accumulated excess fines.