Original article can be found in LA Independent
According to the Los Angeles Times, African Americans and Latinos in California are more likely to suffer harsh consequences resulting from unpaid traffic tickets than other ethnic groups.
The report was conducted by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. To gather their information, the committee examined data from U.S. Censuses, the California DMV, and several sheriff’s departments throughout the state.
African Americans account for just 9.2% of the population in Los Angeles County, yet they represent 33% of all drivers arrested for driving with a suspended license. While traffic tickets are given to people of every race and creed, black drivers in California are arrested at a much higher rate than white drivers who commit the same offenses.
The report states that this is mainly due to the high concentration of low-income African Americans in California. When tickets begin to pile up, many black drivers fall behind on fines and inevitably land in jail.
“Individuals who cannot afford to pay an infraction citation are being arrested, jailed and prosecuted, and are losing their licenses and their livelihoods,” the report said. “The communities impacted by these policies are disproportionately communities of color.”
The vast majority of these arrests stem from habitual violations of speeding and seat belt laws. According to 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people ages 18 to 34 are far less likely to wear seat belts than older drivers, and men are about 10% less likely than women to wear seat belts.
The CDC also claims that seat belts reduce crash-related deaths by more than half, which is why police are cracking down on these offenses. However, there seems to be a gross over-representation of black and Latinos among those arrested for traffic warrants in California.
From September 2013 to September 2015, approximately 85% of the 20,000 people arrested by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for driving with a suspended license were black or Latino. Furthermore, about 48.7% of those arrested in San Francisco in 2014 and 2015 for the same offenses were African American.
While these issues will not go away overnight, there is help available to those struggling financially. A local nonprofit group called A New Way of Life provides lawyers who can reduce fines and/or jail sentences for those facing arrest.