Why “No New Taxes” Guarantees There Are More Fergusons

The Department of Justice’s report on the practices of the city of Ferguson shows that the city adopted a predatory mindset when it came to its relationship with its black residents.

White supremacy in America has always been a vehicle for transferring resources from typically poor black communities to richer white communities. Slavery was a direct robbing of the wages of labor. Jim Crow allowed for robbery with impunity, as black communities were taxed without receiving many of the resulting governmental benefits.

We see this pattern repeated in Ferguson, where black residents were targeted as an economic resource to fund the city while not enjoying the protection of their rights. Through such practices we see a clear analog to the past.

What exacerbated such practices is the maniacal hold of anti-tax fervor that has trickled down from the federal level to the state and local level. With conservative domination of many statehouses, its clear to any ambitious politician that wants to advance in the Republican Party that their fealty to the ideal of “no new taxes” has to be iron-clad.

This lock-step discipline on taxes has become a principle unto itself. From the beginning, its support has come as a result of racializing social safety net programs. What we see is a feedback loop occurring post “formal” Jim Crow. Black people are seen as “stealing” the hard earned taxes of white people, who then support politicians pledging to never raise taxes. Revenue is still needed to run the government, however, so we see budgets for programs that benefit everyone slashed. At the municipal level, cities target black communities to make up the gap.

This targeting is then justified by the same logic that was used to rail against taxes in the first place, as we see in the report. Several officials cite African Americans’ lack of “personal responsibility” as justification for targeting them for revenue.

As long as America is under the grip of this circular logic, there will be many cities operating the way Ferguson did. While people express outrage at the theoretical theft of their taxes by undeserving black people, they still need a functioning government. With the black community serving as an easy target for predatory policing, we will see municipalities turn to fines, arrests, and court fees again and again in order to provide the government that is necessary for functioning communities.

[Cross-posted at Very Very Urban]