In 1916, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) mounted the largest campaign in history against lynching and racist mob violence. Focused on the protection of black lives from state-sanctioned violence, the NAACP organized mass demonstrations, advocated for an anti-lynching bill in Congress, and won a landmark criminal procedure decision in front of the Supreme Court. One hundred years later, racial violence has reemerged on the national political scene as the defining civil rights issue in contemporary U.S. politics. Chanting “Black Lives Matter,” activists have taken to the streets in big cities like New York City and small towns such as Ferguson to bring attention to the disposability of black lives at the hands of law enforcement. Numerous scholars have rushed to explain the persistence of racist violence against blacks and have linked it to such factors as discriminatory policing, unresponsive federal institutions, political policies that criminalize poverty, and persisting housing segregation. This top-down analysis is important in shining a light on oppressive institutions but it is only one part of the story. The other is how activists have strategized internally and externally with funders over the meaning of civil rights. Thus, another way of looking at the present situation is: Why does the protection of black bodies from private and state-sanctioned violence remain an unmet challenge for civil rights groups committed to racial equality? A major but under recognized reason, I propose in this article, is directly connected to movement capture–the process by which private funders use their influence in an effort to shape the agenda of vulnerable civil rights organizations.The puzzle is perplexing because throughout the twentieth century, the NAACP has been at the center of the U.S. civil rights movement and racial violence used to be at the center of the NAACP. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, the NAACP firmly established itself as the preeminent civil rights organization focused on the protection of black lives from racial violence. At the time, lynching and mob violence were at the top of the NAACP’s issue agenda since racial violence was believed to be the greatest obstacle that African Americans in the North and South faced to gaining equality in America.
“The Queen of Soul” (After Charles White’s “Folksinger”), by Kadir Nelson
Aretha Franklin, a pillar of postwar American music, passed away Thursday morning, at seventy-six. A few hours later, the artist Kadir Nelson sent a sketch to The New Yorker, which drew inspiration from “Folksinger,” a 1957 ink drawing by Charles White. “I wanted to draw her in a choir,” he said. “She was a preacher’s daughter, and so much of what she gave us came from the church, even after she moved beyond gospel.” Nelson, of course, wasn’t the only one who paid tribute, and you can read some of The New Yorker’s writing on Franklin, old and new, below.
David Remnick on Franklin’s legacy:
“Prayer, love, desire, joy, despair, rapture, feminism, Black Power—it is hard to think of a performer who provided a deeper, more profound reflection of her times. What’s more, her gift was incomparable. Smokey Robinson, her friend and neighbor in Detroit, once said, ‘Aretha came out of this world, but she also came out of another, far-off magical world none of us really understood. . . . She came from a distant musical planet where children are born with their gifts fully formed.’ ”
Amanda Petrusich on Franklin’s live performances:
“When Aretha sings ‘Amazing Grace’ in that church, it’s suddenly not a song anymore, or not really—the melody, the lyrics, they’re rendered mostly meaningless. A few bits of organ, some piano. Who cares? Congregants yelling ‘Sing it!’ None of it matters. I’m not being melodramatic—we are listening to the wildest embodiment of a divine signal. She receives it and she broadcasts it. ‘Singing’ can’t possibly be the right word for this sort of channelling.”
Emily Lordi on the Queen and soul:
“This was the promise of soul: that pain granted depth, and that one was never alone but accompanied by a vibrant community that had crossed too many bridges in order to survive. Franklin was the queen not only of soul music but of soul as a concept, because her great subject was the exceeding of limits. Her willingness to extend her own vocal technique, to venture beyond herself, to strain to implausible heights, and revive songs that seemed to be over—all these strategies could look and sound like grace. She knew that we would need it.”
Credits: Twine, Sugarcube, Fontawesome, L.A. Superior Court records
“Irish people were slaves just like the fucking black people,” said the young man in a MAGA hat.
The statement, while probably jarring to most, is derived from a common alt-right myth and is yet another instance of fringe conservatives molding history into white supremacist propaganda. What makes this myth particular interesting is its own peculiar history: It was one of the first right-wing memes to be spread on the early internet.
One of the Oldest Memes on the Internet
Liam Hogan is a historian and researcher who has spent the past five years studying and debunking the Irish slavery myth. According to him, one of the seminal figures propagating the theory is Michael A. Hoffman II, who first spread his ideas on internet newsgroups in the 1990s. Hoffman’s perhaps most well known for his 1993 book They Were White and They Were Slaves: The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America, a self-published title that was harshly criticized by academics, and like many alt-right mythologies, is still available on Amazon today.
That book has gone on to be the cornerstone of the Irish slavery myth, which according to Hogan, was ultimately concocted for nefarious purposes.
“The far-right embrace of the false equivalence inherent in the ‘Irish were slaves, too’ meme is not an attempt to assuage guilt,” Hogan wrote in an email to Inverse. “It is instead a blatant bid to support pre-existing anti-black racism.”
The myth was a common sight on white supremacist websites and message boards in the early 2000s, but Hogan noticed a sharp uptick in searches for “Irish slaves” between 2014 and 2016. It got so bad that 82 Irish researchers and writers (including Hogan) wrote an open letter excoriating the myth and urging publications to stop quoting conspiracy theorists.
Were the Irish Actually Slaves?
A small number of Irish arrived in the Americas as indentured servants. While the life of an indentured servant was brutal, it was not at all comparable to the chattel slavery that Africans were subjected to.
For one, indentured servitude was conditional and temporary. Irish servants were released after their contracts were up (typically seven years).
African Americans, however, were literally classified as a slave race. In early American history, children of slaves could be born free if they had a white parent, but these laws were slowly stripped away so that anyone with African heritage would be classified as black and therefore a slave.
Moreover, the conditions in which they worked were completely different. African slaves were subjected to inhuman horrors that would have been unthinkable to commit against an Irish servant. Whippings, brandings, mutilation, and rape were common.
American slavery was shockingly cruel even by historical standards. Though the treatment of slaves varied widely throughout the ancient world, most of them were still entitled to some basic rights and many slaves were even highly educated. The Greek philosopher Epictetus, for example, was born as a slave and trained to be a teacher.
Why Is the Irish Slavery Myth So Persistent?
If the myth of Irish slavery is so demonstrably false, then why does it continue to be an alt-right talking point? As Hogan mentioned, it’s used as a cudgel for anti-black racism, but it also upholds the white supremacist narrative of fighting against the world.
“The far-right also promote the ‘white slavery’ or ‘Irish slavery’ meme because victimhood is the propagandic engine room of ethno-nationalism,” Hogan told Inverse in an email. “White nationalism is fundamentally rooted in victimhood, whereby the dominant group in society takes the position of ‘the oppressed’ to justify violence against the ‘other.’”
The glaring dissonance of white supremacist rhetoric is the simultaneous belief that white people are a superior race despite claiming constant victimhood in being outwitted by supposedly inferior forces such as the liberal media and its Jewish globalist puppet masters.
Altering history and referring to the Irish as slaves is an attempt to solve that discrepancy. For white supremacists, if the Irish managed to rise above discrimination through hard work and ingenuity, then it must mean the other races are lazy or unworthy. It also means that white supremacists will ultimately prevail over their foes.
In truth, the Irish escaped systematic inequality through neither work nor drive — that’s an impossible feat for any group of people. The target was removed from their backs because they began to be understood as white, according to scholar Noel Ignatiev. In 1863, Irish rioters targeted hundreds of black workers during the New York City draft riots, furious over the prospect of fighting in a war to free black slaves. By actively working against abolition movements and aligning themselves with the nativists who originally opposed them, Ignatiev says the Irish were eventually inducted into whiteness.
Law professor David Bernstein also pointed out that, as far as the law was concerned, the Irish were always considered white. During segregation, Irish children attended whites-only schools and none of them were subject to Jim Crow laws. African Americans, Native Americans, and Chinese Americans could not testify against white citizens in court, but Irish Americans could.
Unfortunately, facts and contexts aren’t held in high regard within the alt-right. On a grander scale, White Americans as a whole have been resistant to the idea that systematic racism is an enduring feature in American government because of a phenomenon that sociologist Robin DiAngelo has dubbed white fragility. The combination of far-right groups to falsify history and the refusal to acknowledge institutionalized discrimination means that the Irish slavery myth isn’t going away any time soon.
The Irish Slavery Myth Moving Forward
Ultimately, the propagation of the Irish slavery myth can be linked backed to the perennial white fear of changing demographics. It’s an attempt to counteract the well-documented benefits that White Americans enjoy by claiming there was a time when whites supposedly suffered more than minorities. This notion of white victimhood seems to be a pervasive belief among most White Americans.
55 percent of White Americans believe there is discrimination against white people in America today, according to a poll jointly conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Their beliefs are unfounded, yet it is the chief reason why the majority of white people across the board — from income level to gender — voted for Trump.
Racist anxiety has even altered the moral purity tests that white evangelicals once demanded from their chosen political candidates. In 2011, only 30 percent of white evangelicals were tolerant of elected officials who behaved unethically in their personal lives, according to a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute. In 2016, the same year Trump got elected, the number of white evangelicals expressing sympathy for immoral politicians doubled to a whopping 72 percent.
Whiteness has been a historical shield that has protected various groups from cultural and political bigotry, one that many White Americans believe will be forfeited if the country becomes less white. But unfortunately, a more diverse country doesn’t necessarily mean a more progressive one.
John Judis, a journalist who claimed that an increasingly diverse America would mean a less racist America, recanted his thesis after Donald Trump’s election. Judis and many other pundits believed that the rising numbers of interracial marriages and mixed-race Americans would lead to a more progressive country.
But in doing so, they vastly underesimated the flexibility of white supremacy. White people continue to be a majority power in the United States because of changing attitudes over who gets to be white and who doesn’t. The one-drop ruleapplied to Americans with African ancestry and the Irish induction into whiteness set these historical precedents hundreds of years ago.
As Judis pointed out, this has already been happening with some Asian Americans and Latino Americans. More than a quarter of both groups are in interracial marriages, the vast majority of which are Asian-White and Latino-White. Although the US census lists the children of these unions as Asian American and Latino American, more than 50 percent of biracial people from both groups identified as white. If this trend continues, then it’s unlikely that the United States will become a minority-majority country in the near future.
The Irish slavery myth is cribbing from an old playbook established by white supremacists years ago. The alt-right is simply the latest to do it by shitposting memes, gaming Google results, and leveraging social media.
“These are the trademarks of Disinformation Age racism, the blanket denial of the existence of racism allied with feigned victimhood and the absolute obliteration of history,” Hogan said.
Jonathan D. Lee is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School. A lifelong competitive gamer, he’s written for Major League Gaming, 1337mag, GLHF Magazine, and the New York Videogame Critics Circle. He’s a big believer in Christian existentialism and mustard on hamburgers.
Mourners attend a candlelight vigil in memory of 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. on October 9, 2014, in St. Louis, Missouri. Meyers was shot and killed by an off-duty St. Louis police officer.SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES
Following several nationally publicized police killings of unarmed Black Americans in the United States, Eva L., a fitness instructor who identifies as Black, started to experience what she describes as “immense paranoia.” She would often call in sick, because she feared risking an encounter with police upon leaving her house. She also started to second-guess her and her husband’s decision to have children.
“Seeing Black bodies murdered and physical/emotional violence online and on the news” was a trauma she could no longer bear, Eva says. “I was terrified of bringing a child into the world we live in and experience as Black people. I thought not having kids was a truer sign of love than risk them being harmed by this world.”
A recent study sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania — released just before the anniversaries of the deaths of Eric Garner (2014), Michael Brown (2014), John Crawford (2014), and Philando Castile (2016) — found that there could be millions like Eva, for whom these killings have been a mental health trigger.
Research included data from the Mapping Police Violence Projectdatabase for police killings between 2013 and 2016 and information from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System of over 103,000 Black Americans. The results indicate that police killings of unarmed Black Americans are having a population-level impact on the mental health of Black Americans.
According to researchers, the incidents may contribute to 1.7 additional poor mental health days per person every year, or 55 million more poor mental health days every year among Black Americans across the United States. That means the mental health burden for African Americans caused by police killings of unarmed Black victims is nearly as great as the mental health burden associated with diabetes. African Americans have some of the highest rates of the disease, which contributes annually to 75 million days of poor mental health among them.
Eva started seeing a therapist who diagnosed her as having generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s been two years now, and she admits that her progress toward healing has been slow, yet steady.
Jacob Bor, co-author of the study and assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, says the responses in his social circle to police killings of unarmed Black victims is what interested him in conducting this study. Bor noticed that White people were able to comprehend “the injustice on an intellectual level but did not experience the same level of trauma.”
The study findings confirmed Bor’s personal observations. The research team did not observe spillover mental health effects in White respondents from police killings. It should also be noted that among respondents of either race, there were no spillover effects for police killings of unarmed White people or killings of armed Black people.
The research is essential in considering our own personal experiences, says Bor, adding that the findings speak to the overall “value of different people’s lives.” This society “has a long history of state-sanctioned violence” toward racially marginalized groups, he says.
The mental health sector is only now researching the impact of police brutality, a concern that has affected African Americans for decades. “Clinicians can go through medical school without [gaining] any experience in treating the effects of racism,” Bor says. Studies like his, he adds, can help to create long overdue critical mainstream discussions about the effects of racism on mental health, such as, “How do we in public health, society, and among the clinical and mental health services support people when these incidents occur?” and “Can a profession dominated by White providers effectively treat the emotional struggles of ‘living while Black’ in this country?”
According to Bor, these discussions are needed to implement change. “Among many White Americans, there is an empathy gap … and a failure to believe when people of color say ‘this hurts me,’” he says.
Adding to the deficiency of culturally competent therapists, poverty and other formidable socio-economic challenges — also stemming from structural racism — remain steadfast barriers to African Americans accessing mental health care, according to the American Psychological Association.
New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, has also become a passionate advocate for what she describes as a movement for “culturally competent mental health care.”
“When you talk about people of color, who are obviously facing discrimination and legacy of racism and poverty in huge numbers, you are talking about something that is really tough to overcome,” McCray says.
Inadequate care undermines benefits from policies and resources designed to mitigate the burdens of systemic oppression. “Mental illness along with substance abuse disorders are hardship multipliers,” she says. Struggling unsupported with “mental illness can make everything that much harder.”
For example, holding on to affordable housing, staying enrolled in college, and even surviving encounters with law enforcement can be extremely more difficult for those suffering from mental illness or trauma, McCray says. In fact, the most recent annual numbers from the Washington Post’s database of fatal police-shooting victims indicate that “nearly 1 in 4 of those shot was described as experiencing some form of mental distress at the time of the encounter with police.”
“Mental health is the ultimate intersectional concern,” McCray says. “It is reflected in all of our policies … education, housing, school, relationships.”
In 2015, she and her spouse, Mayor Bill de Blasio, launched Thrive NYC, a $850 million mental health program that incorporates 54 initiatives. Among the program’s several core objectives is the aim to address the stigma around mental illness and increase access to treatment across the city. McCray believes that ThriveNYC’s community focused approach is one of several necessary steps toward reaching historically under served groups.
“Culturally competent care to me is all about trust,” McCray says. “It improves early identification, accessibility, and outcomes.” Also, she says, “People have to be seen.” From her advocacy experience she has observed that “people have to feel that they can turn to someone that they trust.”
Connecting people with the appropriate resources, however, means surmounting many challenges. “There is great deal of work to be done to eliminate the stigma,” McCray says. There is also the matter of affordability and infrastructure. “We’ve never had a well-coordinated mental health system in our country — ever. People who have the money find ways to manage.” She says she wants to fight for everyone to get the resources they need to cope.
Eva recognizes that her path to healing has taken a significant amount of work and support beyond the means of many African Americans. “Access to therapy is a privilege,” she says. “I know that most people can’t afford weekly sessions at $150-plus.” Yet, she adds, “[going through therapy] is the only reason why I’m OK planning for kids at 32.”
Chicago Hiked the Cost of Vehicle City Sticker Violations to Boost Revenue. But It’s Driven More Low-Income, Black Motorists Into Debt.
Now, a former official regrets the move and wants the city to revisit it. Some policies, she said, are “terrible.”
This story is a collaboration between ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ.
During negotiations for Chicago’s 2012 budget, newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel and then-City Clerk Susana Mendoza agreed to hike the price of what was already one of the priciest tickets vehicle owners can get in the city. Citations for not having a required vehicle sticker rose from $120 to $200.
The increase, approved unanimously by the City Council, was pitched by Mendoza as an alternative to raising the price of stickers as well as generating much-needed revenue from “scofflaws.”
A ticket hike, Mendoza told aldermen, could generate $16 million a year for the city.
That did not happen. The increase has brought in just a few million dollars more a year, while it’s unclear if it led to greater compliance. Sticker sales have been largely stagnant.
But increasing the price of sticker tickets came at a devastating cost for thousands of Chicago’s poorest residents, particularly those from African-American neighborhoods, according to an investigation by ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ.
Debt from this one type of ticket swelled, compounded by late penalties and collection fees. Collectively, drivers now owe the city some $275 million for sticker tickets issued since 2012.
The penalty increase — coupled with a pattern of racial disparities in sticker ticketing — has exacerbated a uniquely Chicago phenomenon: Thousands of mostly black drivers filing for bankruptcy to cope with ticket debt.
ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ analyzed millions of records from tickets dating back to 2007 and found:
- Sticker citations are the least likely of the city’s routine parking tickets to get paid, with only one in three tickets issued in 2016 paid within a year. Other frequently issued tickets, including $60 street cleaning citations and $50 expired meter citations, are cheaper and more likely to end in payment.
- Black neighborhoods are hit with sticker tickets at a higher rate, per household, than other parts of the city, according to an analysis of tickets from 2011 to 2015. Tickets issued by police drive the disparity.
- Tickets issued in more affluent, majority white neighborhoods are more likely to get dismissed, according to an analysis of 2017 tickets. That’s in large part because motorists from those neighborhoods appeal at higher rates than drivers cited in other parts of the city.
The mayor’s office did not respond to questions about how the fine increase affects black residents. Instead, in a statement, a spokesman for Emanuel said the finance department “is always reviewing enforcement and collection. That’s in part what drove this administration to create new payment plans to make it easier for residents to pay off tickets.”
Mendoza, meanwhile, expressed regret over her role in increasing the cost of sticker tickets at the expense of low-income black Chicagoans. Now state comptroller, she said the city should “revisit” the ticket prices and consider forgiving drivers’ ticket debt once they come into compliance with the sticker requirement.
“Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to just give tickets and tickets and tickets to people who can’t afford to pay,” said Mendoza. “It’s important that we see what the consequences of policies are … Sometimes they’re terrible.”
Making “Scofflaws” Pay The Price
The decision to raise the fine was framed publicly as a way to pass the burden of paying for pothole repairs — which, along with other street maintenance, are financed with revenue from sticker sales — from “soccer moms” who drive large vehicles to “scofflaws” who don’t buy stickers or purchase them late.
It was the fall of 2011 and Emanuel’s first budget. Years of borrowing and overspending from the administration of his predecessor, Mayor Richard M. Daley, had left Chicago in a perilous financial condition. The housing downturn, meanwhile, had led to a drop in some tax revenue. The city needed to find new revenue sources.
Among the newly elected mayor’s proposals to narrow the deficit, he suggested cuts to libraries and mental health centers while increasing the prices for water service, garbage removal and some parking.
He also proposed raising the cost of Chicago’s wheel tax — what’s known colloquially as the “city sticker” — for some large passenger vehicles from $75 to $135 per year. Heavier vehicles already paid more.
Chicago’s wheel tax is unique among the country’s largest 15 cities. Some cities have fees that are tacked onto state vehicle registrations, but none are so expensive.
Mendoza pushed back on increasing the cost of stickers, saying it was too steep and would hurt families that owned larger vehicles. One of the city clerk’s main jobs is to run the sticker program.
She suggested instead that the city raise penalties for sticker “scofflaws.” Aldermen applauded her strategy and the Emanuel administration went along. The increase was included in the broader vote on the city budget, which the City Council unanimously approved.
The cost of a sticker went up for all motorists, though not as much as initially proposed. Penalties for motorists who purchased city stickers late increased to $60, up from $40.
The citation for not having a sticker went up 67 percent, to $200 — an amount that, with late penalties and collections fees, quickly can rise to $488 and become a financial burden for families.
A lawsuit filed against the city last week alleges that these penalties exceed a state cap of $250. City officials have not responded to the suit, but have indicated that they will use Chicago’s “home rule” authority — a privilege that allows large cities to set their own taxes and fines — as a defense.
Despite repeated questioning over several weeks, finance department officials would not say if they ran revenue projections or considered how a price hike would affect the city’s poorest residents before the ticket hike was approved.
Kristen Cabanban, a finance department spokeswoman, said in a statement that hiking ticket prices was meant to “serve as a deterrent for scofflaws” and an incentive for motorists to purchase stickers.
Sales have been relatively steady since 2008, at 1.2 million to 1.4 million stickers a year, according to records from the city clerk’s office.
In an interview, Mendoza said the final sticker ticket price “was based on the fact that the increase in the sticker itself would be marginal and that the money would be made up more so on the noncompliance side. They needed to come up with the revenues for the city at that time to fill that budget hole.”
She projected a windfall in testimony at an October 2011 City Council budget hearing.
“If we were to increase that fee [to], say, $200, that would give you $16 million there, without having to ask a single person who is in compliance today to give us more,” Mendoza said. “Let’s go after the other folks.”
Her projections appear to have been based on assumptions that everybody who gets a ticket pays it, and that the number of total citations is similar year to year. Both assumptions are false.
Few motorists pay city sticker tickets, a trend that has held steady both before and after the price increase. From 2007 to 2016, the payment rate over 12 months remained about one in three. Meanwhile, the number of sticker citations issued annually ranges between 200,000 and 250,000.
Police, finance department parking enforcement aides, investigators from the clerk’s office and private contractors all write tickets.
In years when the number of sticker citations were similar, revenue increased by a few million dollars. About 200,000 tickets were issued in both 2011 and 2014, for example, and revenue increased from about $21 million to $25 million. There were also similar numbers of tickets issued in 2007 and 2015 — about 250,000 tickets. Revenue jumped from about $25 million to $32 million.
Over time, those amounts can be expected to grow as more drivers pay their tickets.
Meanwhile, debt has skyrocketed. Drivers owe the city about $16.8 million for unpaid sticker tickets, late fines and collections fees from citations issued in 2011. They owe nearly twice that amount for unpaid tickets issued in 2012. And that debt keeps climbing.
Unpaid sticker tickets have contributed to an explosion in Chapter 13 bankruptcies in Chicago, a trend ProPublica Illinois reported on earlier this year. These citations, according to the city’s ticket data, represent one in four tickets connected to bankruptcies.
Cabanban said the increase in bankruptcy filings is “largely due to a small number of bankruptcy law firms selling Chapter 13 as the cheap and easy way to get out of having to pay the city debt, while those firms almost never deliver on that promise.”
Indeed, most bankruptcies tied to unpaid tickets fail as debtors are unable to keep up with required monthly payments. Bankruptcy firms routinely alter the terms of Chapter 13 payment plans in order to ensure their legal fees are paid first, a practice that has recently come under scrutiny in Chicago.
City officials say they want indebted drivers to get on municipal payment plans instead of filing for bankruptcy.
“Early enrollment in the City’s payment plan, where fines, penalties and accrued interest can be avoided, is open to all motorists – even those who have only received one ticket,” Cabanban said.
However, motorists with substantial ticket debt who have lost their driver’s licenses or vehicles because of unpaid tickets are required to pay $1,000 or more to sign up for a monthly payment plan. That down payment can be a barrier for thousands of drivers who file for bankruptcy protection to restore their driving privileges.
More Tickets in Black Neighborhoods
Last month, ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ reported on how the city has, on some 20,000 occasions over the past decade, issued multiple city sticker tickets to the same vehicle on the same day. Those duplicate tickets were disproportionately issued in black neighborhoods.
Those disparities are evident in a broader analysis of where sticker tickets are handed out. ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ mapped the 1.1 million sticker citations issued between 2011 and 2015 and found more citations were issued, per household, in low-income black neighborhoods than anywhere else.
Of Chicago’s 77 community areas, North Lawndale, West Englewood and West Garfield Park had the highest rates of sticker tickets — at least 10 times higher than in majority white, more affluent neighborhoods such as Forest Glen, Edison Park and Norwood Park, where the rates are lowest.
City officials have offered varying explanations for the disparities. A spokesman for the police department said officers check for city stickers during traffic stops. Finance department officials, meanwhile, said their staff may issue more sticker tickets in South and West side neighborhoods because those areas have fewer parking meters or residential parking zones — meaning there are fewer other kinds of tickets to issue there.
Another explanation for the disparities: More motorists in low-income black neighborhoods simply don’t have city stickers. An analysis of sticker sale data from 2017 does show slightly more late sticker purchases in black neighborhoods, when compared to other parts of the city. The data doesn’t offer a complete account, however, as motorists who never bought stickers are simply left out.
Mendoza said she knew at the time of the debate that many low-income Chicagoans struggled to buy vehicle stickers. While the city offers a discounted rate for senior citizens, no such discount is available for low-income residents. What’s more, she said, many middle-class and more affluent residents who don’t buy stickers can avoid getting caught more easily than low-income residents because garages are more prevalent in more affluent neighborhoods.
He said he’s been looking into policy solutions but has not found an answer.
Villegas was first elected in 2015, after the decision to raise the penalty for the city sticker citation. But he said he’s probably voted on other occasions to increase fines and fees without considering how they may affect the city’s poorest residents.
“Do I have the ability to comb through that budget and look through every fee? No,” he said. “Obviously we’re trying to balance the budget. But at the same time, we have to make sure we’re balancing it in a manner that’s not breaking people’s backs.”
Melissa Sanchez is a reporter at ProPublica Illinois, where she has been looking at how ticket debt affects the poor.