Amos and Judge Ronald Brockmeyer

Amos and Judge Ronald Brockmeyer March 24, 2015

When I read things like this:

The judge in Ferguson, Missouri, who is accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and colleagues while inflicting a punishing regime of fines and fees on the city’s residents, also owes more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes.

Ronald J Brockmeyer, whose court allegedly jailed impoverished defendants unable to pay fines of a few hundred dollars, has a string of outstanding debts to the US government dating back to 2007, according to tax filings obtained by the Guardian from authorities in Missouri.

Brockmeyer, 70, was this week singled out by Department of Justice investigators as being a driving force behind Ferguson’s strategy of using its municipal court to aggressively generate revenues. The policy has been blamed for a breakdown in relations between the city’s overwhelmingly white authorities and residents, two-thirds of whom are African American.

Investigators found Brockmeyer had boasted of creating a range of new court fees, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful”. A city councilman opposing the judge’s reappointment was warned “switching judges would/could lead to loss of revenue”.

And this:

The class action lawsuit filed against Ferguson earlier this year alleges that the city violates the constitutional rights of defendants imprisoned over outstanding tickets and minor offences. It seeks compensation and asks a federal judge to force Ferguson to halt the practices.

“Once locked in the Ferguson jail, impoverished people owing debts to the city endure grotesque treatment. They are kept in overcrowded cells; they are denied toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap; they are subjected to the constant stench of excrement and refuse in their congested cells [and] they are surrounded by walls smeared with mucus and blood,” said one passage of the lawsuit, which went on to name several more hardships.

One of the plaintiffs – Roelif Carter, a 62-year-old disabled military veteran – alleges he was arrested and jailed for three days in Ferguson in 2010 after trying to pay the $100 monthly instalment for his outstanding traffic fines on the second day of the month rather than the first, when it was due. While living in “constant fear” he was arrested and jailed three more times in the following years when he was unable to pay the monthly charge, the lawsuit alleges.

“Most debtors in this country are not rounded up and jailed in brutal conditions,” said Alec Karakatsanis, a co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law and a lead attorney on the lawsuit. “But if you happen to owe your debts to a municipality in St Louis County, they are willing to let you languish there on a ransom.”

I think of things like this:

4 Hear this, you who trample upon the needy,
and bring the poor of the land to an end,
5 saying, “When will the new moon be over,
that we may sell grain?
And the sabbath,
that we may offer wheat for sale,
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and deal deceitfully with false balances,
6 that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and sell the refuse of the wheat?”

7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
“Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
8 Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and every one mourn who dwells in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?”

9 “And on that day,” says the Lord God,
“I will make the sun go down at noon,
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth upon all loins,
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,

and the end of it like a bitter day. (Am 8:4–10).

That day of mourning was Good Friday and the Only Son is Jesus, who died to forgive such crimes of the powerful against the weak.  I pray the good judge avail himself of the grace offered him while he still has time because the warning of Amos to men like him is terrifying.  May God have mercy on him.

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  • Dennis Maricle

    Mark, you should have a bigger fan club. I appreciate your writing. Keep it up.

  • Elaine S.

    “Shall not the land tremble on this account,
    and every one mourn who dwells in it,
    and all of it rise like the Nile,
    and be tossed about and sink again?”

    I guess that’s already happened, considering that property values and business prospects in Ferguson have been virtually wiped out by all the unrest. Unfortunately, it’s not people like the judge who suffer because of that; it’s all the innocent residents who now can’t find jobs, keep their businesses open, or sell their homes at any price.

  • dasrach

    Those first two paragraphs sent my mind here:

    Matthew 18:23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[c] was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;[d] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[e] from your heart.”

  • St. Louis county needs to be reorganized and a lot of these postage stamp municipalities merged into something viable. That isn’t going to fix things in Ferguson because they’re already of a size that should not have to resort to petty tyrant taxes to fund the local government.

    Why aren’t the residents voting in a better class of politician?