A group of sixteen (16) community organizations coordinated by the Fair Fines + Fees Coalition sent a letter last week to Mayor Byron Brown, Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood and Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer with three requests.
The group asked the City of Buffalo to place a formal moratorium on impounding vehicles, a formal moratorium on ticketing for traffic on parking violations and asked for relief from pre-existing traffic and parking-related debt including the release of impounded vehicles. According to the groups, towing and ticketing have decreased by 90% since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but the City of Buffalo has impounded over 90 vehicles during that timeframe.
Representatives from these groups held a press conference Tuesday morning to discuss these concerns.
Rev. George Nicholas, a member of the African American Health Disparities Task Force, discussed the disproportionate number of people in the African American community receiving fees, fines and tickets for minor, non-criminal activities.
He noted that Buffalo’s East Side continues to face health, economic, educational, housing disparities – and the results of a criminal justice system in desperate need of reform. He said it seems unfair that people from those same communities continue to receive a disproportionate amount of parking tickets.
“The last thing that community needs is overzealous enforcement of ticketing around vehicles,” Nicholas said. “People in those communities cannot afford to deal with those [added fees] right now.”
Jalonda Hill, a paralegal at Western New York Law center and organizer of the Fair Fines + Fees Coalition, included that the coalition’s requests to city officials would also minimize unnecessary police interaction with constituents, as at least 21 police officers have already tested positive for COVID-19.
“We just want to make sure that the City of Buffalo is using this time not to penalize people but to protect those most vulnerable to this crisis,” Hill said. “[People shouldn’t] have to worry about choosing between traffic and parking debt and needing to get food and water for their homes.”
Anyone who has concerns is encouraged to reach out to Fair Fines + Fees Coalition – Buffalo on Facebook.