Fifteen local and national social justice groups, under the Fair Fines and Fees Coalition moniker, on Monday submitted a letter to the office of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, detailing concerns they have with the city’s budget proposal for the fiscal year 2020-2021.
African American Health Equity Task Force Attorney Jill Heaps said much of the concern stems from the city’s Traffic Violations Agency and the police department’s ticketing practices.
“The Traffic Violations Agency’s budget projects over $3 million in net revenue from traffic tickets,” Heaps said. “Our concern is that these traffic tickets are being primarily focused in low-income, Black neighborhoods.”
Heaps said the ticketing enforcement doesn’t match with the agency’s mission of developing responsible driving habits and reducing the number of traffic injuries and fatalities. The coalition suspects a disproportionate amount of tickets are issued in predominantly Black neighborhoods. The City of Buffalo remains mired in a lawsuit filed by local advocacy group Black Love Resists in the Rust over checkpoints in neighborhoods of color.
Using the city’s most vulnerable residents in an effort to fill budgeting gaps is only compounding their situations, said Western New York Law Center Paralegal Jalonda Hill.
“It kind of shows that the city’s motive is around revenue generation rather than traffic safety,” Hill said.
That includes new traffic ticket fees the city introduced two years prior.
“Eliminate the fees that the city introduced back in 2018,” Hill said. “Those fees serve no other purpose other than to create revenue for the city, and then add like another extra $100 on to every traffic ticket in the City of Buffalo.”
Pastor George Nicholas of the African American Health Equity Task Force said the push to get the budget amended is part of a larger effort to eliminate the disparities people of color have long faced in the City of Buffalo.
“Economics and interactions with the criminal justice system,” he said. “Those are part of the social determinants of health. This is our moment in this community, around this issue and a host of other issues, to begin to start making things right in this community for everybody. We have to change, We have to change how we operate as a community. And this issue around the fines and fees and ticketing is an example of something that needs to change as we move forward.
The coalition said they have not gotten a response yet from either the mayor’s office or members of the Common Council. The mayor’s office released a statement to WBFO Tuesday saying according to the Traffic Violations Agency, their estimated revenues are based on tickets from school zones and school bus cameras, not from increased ticketing from police officers.