YAL at Missouri Hosts Talk About Ferguson

Show-Me Cannabis Executive Director John Payne and marijuana reform advocate, Tea Partier, and 34-year veteran of the St. Louis Police Department Sgt. Gary Wiegert spoke to our YAL chapter at the University of Missouri about the ongoing problems coming out of Ferguson, Missouri. How did Ferguson become such a disjointed, hellish police state for local residents?

YAL had questions. Mr. Payne and Sgt. Wiegert had some answers.

The intimate gathering of YALers got a lesson in just how extensive the cesspool of city government is in both Ferguson and St. Louis. The event attracted a crowd of 15 local liberty activists and college students.

Mr. Payne and Sgt. Wiegert made some insightful points about the feudalistic type of system that poor St. Louisians and Ferguson residents have to deal with on a daily basis.

Feudalism ended in Europe in the latter half of the Fifteenth Century. It was a system where European overlords extracted money from poor laborers in exchange for working a plot of land and feeding their families. Payne says that feudalism is not quite dead. In fact, it has been modernized, and is emerging with devastating effect in small municipalities throughout St. Louis proper.

John Payne on Ferguson corruption

What is happening, Payne told the crowd, is that these small cities – like Ferguson and Jennings, both located in the St. Louis metropolitan area – are starting to issue expensive fines and tickets for small time beefs in order to extort money out of their citizenry. City officials in Ferguson have begun to depend on these fines for basic city government. He told the crowd “… law enforcement should be about protecting people and property. It should not be about raising revenue to buy more police cars, toys and MRAPs.”

What is worse, Payne told the crowd, is that these fines begin to incubate and take on a life of their own. The city is slowly hosing citizens in Ferguson, which is creating a combustible, hostile environment between the people, police, and city officials.

For example, Payne noted, some of the poorest people in Ferguson are unable to pay the exorbitant fines levied against them, leaving them open to warrants being issued for their arrest. After being jailed, they are then forced to pay fines twice the size of the ones first issued. This, Payne said, leads “to a vicious cycle where every month a large part of their income is going to these cities. That’s both making these people serve as a permanent underclass – forever in debt to the city – and making the cities dependent on their money” for basic city expenses.

Payne went on to tell the crowd that “it becomes sort of this feudal thing, where the cities are the nobles extracting wealth from the poorer population.”

This insidious relationship also breeds wanton corruption. For example, Mayor Sylvester Caldwell of Pine Lawn, a small community located just southeast of Ferguson, was arrested last Thursday on charges of extortion. According to the Riverfront Times, a local St. Louis blog, “the charges center on an alleged bribery scheme, where a tow-truck company owner paid Caldwell for the privilege of hauling away vehicles identified for towing by the Pine Lawn Police Department. The case was investigated by the FBI.”

YAL at MU and Ferguson

Unfortunately, fines and tickets aren’t the only problem; there also is the issue of the criminalization of marijuana. Sgt. Wiegert, for his part, told the crowd that the pervasiveness and violence surrounding the “war on drugs” is a result of greed on the part of police departments. Sgt. Wiegert explained: “When we (police departments) seize drug money, we give the money to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). They keep 20 percent, and they give 80 percent back to the local police department. So what you have is a set of police departments worried about administering laws…but what they are actually doing is chasing the dollar.”

Sgt. Wiegert also told the crowd that the real culprit behind the shananigans in Ferguson is the legislature. Lawmakers create a pastiche of laws, and then expect police officers to uphold every one. It makes for less freedom and liberty overall, he said. Moreover, the idea that superfluous laws will stop bad things from happening is silly, Sgt. Wiegert told the audience. Instead of allowing people to govern their own lives, he said, “We look to lock up people, hoping that that will solve all of our problems . . . I don’t think it’s up to the government to tell me to wear a seatbelt, or a helmet, or whether or not to grow marijuana. Why is it up to the government to protect me from myself?”  

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