Ferguson court makes changes, hopes to build trust with Blacks

BY JAMES QUEALLY
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

The Missouri city of Ferguson, blasted months ago in a Department of Justice report for engaging in institutional racism, has announced a slew of changes aimed at easing stiff repercussions for residents accused of minor crimes and traffic violations.

Newly appointed Municipal Judge Donald McCullin said Monday that he has directed the court to void all arrest warrants issued before 2015, and that he has lightened penalties for traffic-violation defendants who fail to appear in court.

“These changes should continue the process of restoring confidence in the court, alleviating fears of the consequences of appearing in court, and giving many residents a fresh start,” McCullin said in a statement.

Traffic-violating reform
Under McCullin’s new orders, traffic-violation defendants who are taken into custody for failing to appear in court will be released and given a new court date. Under the old system, defendants could face high bails and often wound up sitting in jail until their new court date.

McCullin also directed the court to reinstate the licenses of defendants who have had their driving rights suspended because of a failure to appear in court.

A Justice Department report released in March found that Ferguson’s court system engaged in practices that were discriminatory against Black residents.

‘Good olive branch’
The report found that, compared with White residents, African-Americans were far less likely to have had their cases dismissed in court and far more likely to have been arrested in the first place.

Records also showed that federal investigators found 96 percent of those arrested during traffic stops in Ferguson because of outstanding warrants were African-American.

Two-thirds of Ferguson’s residents are Black.

Patricia Bynes, the city’s Democratic committeewoman, said McCullin’s announcement was a good first step toward healing the divide between Ferguson residents and the city’s judicial system.

“At some point, we need an olive branch to move forward, and what I see is a good olive branch,” she said. “This is a good segue into having a good conversation about moving forward and what’s reasonable to expect from the court.”

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