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Are Little Orange Envelopes Targeting Minority Communities?

There is no pit in the stomach like the one that comes from the site of a parking ticket. That little orange envelope glaring off a windshield makes you wonder how much you owe the city this time. Until recently, a safe bet had always been $40—bare minimum for not moving your car on time or forgetting which side you parked on the night before. Then, there’s always the risk the ticket will unravel like some medieval proclamation pronouncing you owe the city much more than you’d assumed.

For those just relocating to Buffalo, the increase in ticketing and rising fees and fines is obviously a nuisance, but for long-time residents, particularly those in minority communities, constant ticketing and rising penalty costs are highly problematic.

According to the Fees and Fines Coalition, residents in predominantly minority communities are four times (4x) more likely to be ticketed, and those tickets are eight times (8x) more likely to receive multiple citations. Parking tickets must be paid in full or else accrue additional fees if not paid on time. With tickets going well into the hundreds of dollars, some families are forced to make difficult decisions between basic needs or paying a ticket. Unpaid parking tickets lead to suspended licenses, impounded vehicles, and even arrests.

Currently, the most common traffic ticket in the city of Buffalo is tinted windows.

All of this taking place in a city that clear-cut acres of historic buildings to erect private surface parking lots, destroyed parkways in favor of expressways, and discontinued a vast public transit system. What remained was left virtually unnavigable without a car. A great deal of employment in the city is not accessible by public transport.

Now residents who have suffered the most from “urban renewal” are the ones being targeted to help fund the city’s resurgence. Traffic tickets are a major source of revenue for the City of Buffalo coming in at $2M profit last year.

While Buffalo was still operating checkpoints up until 2017, 91% of them were done in Black and Latino communities. 38% of all reported checkpoints occurred along Bailey Avenue in neighborhoods where the population was over 85% Black and Latino.

The data speaks for itself, there is an obvious pattern of targeting minority communities and criminalizing poverty – these statistics and sentiments were brought up at a recent community meeting in the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library library. The data came to life as people gave one testimony after another. The Fair Fines and Fees Coalition event highlighted the issues targeting Buffalo’s minority community, and then gave a platform for people to share their common experiences. People couldn’t get jobs because of suspended licenses, received tickets over a hundred dollars for minor traffic violations, or had already received over ten (10) tickets this year.

These testimonials were only a small representation of the countless instances that happen here daily. Individually, those tickets don’t always appear as a major concern or even undeserved. Collectively however, they illustrate a much larger systematic issue glaring us in the face, like a little orange envelope on a windshield.

If you have ever had a problem with traffic enforcement in the city, or are still struggling to pay off a mounting bill to the city, Fair Fines and Fees holds a monthly meeting every 3rd Wednesday at 11AM in the Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church, 641 Masten Ave. All are welcome to attend.

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Written by Daniel Regan

Daniel Regan

Dan is a Buffalo native who comes from a long line of Buffalo natives. originally born in Kenmore, moved through Chicago, then Pittsburgh, before returning to spend the remainder of his childhood in the Boston Hills. After High School, he attended college in Boston Mass. Initially studying business management, switched to International Studies after a semester at the University of Cape Town, SA. Returning to Buffalo after Boston, Dan continues to travel and accommodate anyone new to his hometown. Now, you can find Dan checking someone in at the Hostel or leading a Buffalo Bike Tour this summer.

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