Philando Castille was killed in a traffic stop. He was stopped many times in his life for tickets. NPR has more on his driving records.
“An NPR analysis of those records shows that the 32-year-old cafeteria worker who was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in a St. Paul, Minn., suburb, was stopped by police 46 times and racked up more than $6,000 in fines. Another curious statistic: Of all of the stops, only six of them were things a police officer would notice from outside a car — things like speeding or having a broken muffler.
The records show that Castile spent most of his driving life fighting tickets. Three months after that first stop, for example, his license was suspended and he went into his first spiral: Police stopped him on Jan. 8, 2003. They stopped him on Feb. 3 and on Feb. 12 and Feb. 26 and on March 4.
‘What Mr. Castile symbolizes for a lot of us working in public defense is that driving offenses are typically just crimes of poverty,’ says Erik Sandvick, a public defender in Ramsey County, which includes St. Paul and its suburbs.
When he heard about Castile in the news, his name sounded so familiar that Sandvick looked up the records and saw his own name listed as Castile’s public defender in a 2006 case. He vaguely remembers Castile, but his story is like that of many other clients he’s had. They get tickets they can’t pay, and then they are ticketed over and over for driving with a suspended license or not having insurance.
The proliferation of court fees has prompted some states, like New Jersey, to use amnesty programs to encourage the thousands of people who owe fines to surrender in exchange for fee reductions. At the Fugitive Safe Surrender program, makeshift courtrooms allow judges to individually handle each case.
Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University and the author of Crook County, which documents the problems in the criminal justice system of Chicago, said Castile was the “classic case” of what criminologists have called “net widening,” or the move by local authorities to criminalize more and more aspects of regular life.
‘It is in particular a way that people of color and the poor are victimized on a daily basis,’ Gonzalez Van Cleve said.
Many times, both Gonzalez Van Cleve and Sandvick agree, the system leaves citizens with no good choices — having to pick, for instance, whether to pay a fine or pay for car insurance.
In some ways, Schnell added, this is a cycle for everyone involved: Unable to dig themselves out, drivers may lose their licenses and police may run their plates.
‘The registered owner pops up as driving after suspension or revocation, and that can often trigger the stop,’ Schnell said.
Castile’s driving problems often appeared to be triggered by something small — a problem with his license plate or blocking an intersection. When he couldn’t keep up with the fines, his license would get suspended, and he’d keep driving.
One six-year period in particular — from 2006 to 2012 — stands out. Castile was stopped 29 times during that period. Sometimes he was fined $270, sometimes $150, but it kept adding up. He soon amassed more than $5,000 in fines.”
I’ve been calling this the “Driving While License Suspended Treadmill to Nowhere” for years. I was the conveyor belt on that treadmill for a long time. It’s real.
This is not serving our communities. It’s only lining the pockets of the government. It’s broken. You have to be willing to acknowledge that something is broken in order to start to fix it.