Buffalonians Demand an End to Ticketing for Profit
April 23, 2020, Buffalo, NY – Today, five Black residents of Buffalo joined a lawsuit against the City over its racially discriminatory traffic ticketing practices. The lawsuit, Black Love Resists in the Rust , et al. v. City of Buffalo, alleges that for seven years, the City of Buffalo has targeted Black and Latinx drivers and neighborhoods for aggressive traffic enforcement to generate revenue and make up for budget shortfalls.
“The checkpoints and over-ticketing are radicalized criminalizations that are painted as public safety measures, but that’s not the truth,” said Marielle Smith, a community organizer with Black Love Resists in the Rust, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “This case is a huge narrative shift from the status quo that the mayor and council say is needed to ensure public safety. It’s powerful when we able to collectively say, ‘no, this is not keeping us safe.’”
“As a Buffalo native, I’ve been horrified to see how Black and Brown motorists are being profiled and ticketed by the police for financial gain, with Mayor Byron Brown’s blessing. Buffalonians already crushed by COVID-19 are being dragged further into debt by the City and losing access to the vehicles they need to survive,” said Chinyere Ezie, Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The amended complaint filed today alleges a system of aggressive and punitive traffic enforcement conducted by the Buffalo Police Department (BPD) and high-ranking officials to generate revenue for the City of Buffalo at the expense of low-income communities of color. Tickets are overwhelmingly issued to Black and Latinx drivers. BPD officers also frequently issue multiple tickets per traffic stop, especially to drivers of color, and the City now imposes numerous fees on top of each ticket, which dramatically increase the financial impact of the ticketing scheme.
“BPD’s ticketing practices violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, which prohibit unreasonable seizures, racial discrimination, and policing for profit,” said Claudia Wilner, Director of Litigation and Advocacy at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.
The five Black Buffalo residents who joined the case today demonstrate the severe negative impact of the checkpoints and ticketing on their lives. Some report being ticketed for car alterations made due to disability (such as tinted windows installed due to vision problems); receiving unjustified tickets (such as a ticket for expired insurance that was not, in fact, expired); or having their cars repeatedly ticketed while lawfully parked in residential lots. Some lost jobs because they could not drive to work after having licenses suspended, some had to pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees in order to clear the tickets and resume driving, and others were forced to surrender their cars and stop driving entirely.
“In July 2018, after the lawsuit was initially filed, the City of Buffalo exponentially increased the costs of traffic violations by adding 13 new fees on top of existing traffic fines, ensuring that the hard-earned dollars of Black and Latinx drivers continue to fill the city’s coffers,” said Keisha Williams, Staff Attorney at the Western New York Law Center. “These fees further expose the profit motive behind the BPD’s and City’s aggressive and discriminatory traffic enforcement practices.”
The lawsuit alleges that such discriminatory enforcement practices are an extension of the BPD vehicle checkpoints, which disproportionately targeted the East Side. Checkpoints often blocked residents’ streets and driveways, were placed on one-way streets so that motorists could not avoid passing through them, and police officers frequently chased, stopped, and questioned any drivers who they believed were attempting to avoid them. Residents had to carry out the most basic activities of their lives—such as going to work, dropping children at school, grocery shopping, or attending medical appointments or religious services—under constant police surveillance.
For more information and to read today’s filing, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
The Western New York Law Center is a non-profit legal organization in Buffalo. We provide free, direct legal services and impact litigation throughout Western New York, and work through coalitions to promote economic and social justice in our area. Follow us @wnylawcenter
National Center for Law and Economic Justice is a national advocacy organization that uses impact litigation, policy advocacy, and support for grassroots organizing to promote economic justice for low-income families, individuals, and communities across the country. Read more about us at www.nclej.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @NCLEJustice
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.