Congressman Cleaver Announces Introduction of The Fair Justice Act

Mar 9, 2015
Press Release
Legislation would make it a civil rights violation to enforce criminal or traffic laws for the purpose of raising revenue.

Today, U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05) in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Selma, and in response to the tragic events of Ferguson, announced his plan to introduce a bill to ban criminal and traffic law enforcement activities motivated by revenue raising purposes.

Announcing introduction of the Fair Justice Act, Congressman Cleaver stated, "The time has come to end the practice of using law enforcement as a cash register, a practice that has impacted too many Americans and has disproportionately affected minority and low-income communities. No American should have to face arbitrary police enforcement, the sole purpose of which is to raise revenue for a town, city, or state.”

Congressman Cleaver's Fair Justice Act would make it a civil rights violation, punishable by up to five years in prison, to enforce criminal or traffic laws solely to raise revenue. Thus, no official or agency of a state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision may adopt a policy or engage in any activity that authorizes, promotes, or executes the enforcement of criminal, civil, or traffic laws for the purpose of raising revenue.

This legislation will help prevent the kind of reprehensible activities that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, where the Department of Justice found that Ferguson's law enforcement practices were shaped by the city's overwhelming focus on raising revenue rather than protecting the public.  

“It is a common practice of certain law enforcement officials of state and local municipalities to target communities solely for profit,” said Congressman Cleaver. “Americans of all stripes have faced this, but there can be no doubt that minorities and low-income residents have faced the brunt of this. Make no mistake, the Fair Justice Act is needed now more than ever, in order to finally put an end to criminal and traffic law enforcement activities motivated solely by raising revenue,” said Congressman Cleaver.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the results of the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson police department. The report provided a searing account of unconstitutional police practices motivated by the purpose of generating revenue. The DOJ reported that police work disproportionately targeted minorities in generating revenue from fines and fees, rather than protecting the community.

President Barack Obama recently stated, in light of the report, that, “[w]hat we saw was that the Ferguson Police Department, in conjunction with the municipality, saw traffic stops, arrests, tickets as a revenue generator, as opposed to serving the community, and that it systematically was biased against African-Americans in that city who were stopped, harassed, mistreated, abused, called names, fined.”

Additionally, The U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson Police Department offers examples of other unfortunate incidents in recent years outside of Ferguson and across the United States:

  • In Jennings, Missouri a new lawsuit alleges that the court system has almost exclusively black defendants, who are routinely sent to jail for failing to pay minor traffic fines.
  • In Alabama, which has made heavy budget cuts to court funding, several lawsuits contend that local courts perpetuate a cycle of steep fines for minor offenses, and jail those who cannot pay.
  • In California, residents in the predominantly Latino community of southeast L.A. County have complained for years that they are unfairly targeted by city officials for profit. Citizens allege that the city extracted tens of thousands of dollars from plumbers, carpet cleaners, even people scavenging for bottles and cans, by seizing vehicles for alleged code violations, and then pressuring the owners to pay arbitrary fines. Additionally, it was reported that local law enforcement officers targeted immigrants in the U.S. without proper papers by using towing schemes. Police would pull over drivers simply to impound their cars, forcing the drivers to pay large impound fees.

Emanuel Cleaver, II is the U.S. Representative for Missouri’s Fifth Congressional District, which includes Kansas City, Independence, Lee's Summit, Raytown, Grandview, Sugar Creek, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Oak Grove, North Kansas City, Gladstone, Claycomo, and all of Ray, Lafayette, and Saline Counties. He is a member of the exclusive House Financial Services Committee, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, and also a Senior Whip of the Democratic Caucus. A high-resolution photo of Congressman Cleaver is available here.