Tickets are tools in class warfare
All citations are bastards
Both arrests and tickets function as tools in the class war, and in the ongoing assertion of white supremacy in this country. The violence of arrests may be more readily obvious – the physical manhandling of the bodies of those who are poor and often racialized, the imposition of the state in the day to day life of the criminalized individual, the sometimes lethal violence of incarceration – but ticketing has a similar power to bring those who receive them to their knees.
Tickets allow the wealthy to break the law for a fee. If you are rich, a $500 ticket – or a $500 per hour lawyer – for speeding, or noise violations, or distracted driving, means nothing. But for someone who is already struggling financially, that kind of unexpected cost can shake your life to its foundations.
There’s “fine option,” of course, where you can work off the cost of your ticket by labouring for minimum wage at one of several pre-approved not-for-profits, but people who are short on money are often also short on that other valuable resource, time. If you’re a single mom who got a $580 distracted driving ticket for eating while you drove from one minimum wage job to another, you don’t have the money to pay for a babysitter for your kids while you work off your fine, nor do you have the roughly 50 hours it will take you to work it off by washing windows for minimum wage.
Ticketing allows municipalities to reap cash benefits from those with money while exploiting the time and labour of poor people under the guise of community building. By having folks work off their fines at not-for-profits like Salvation Army and the YMCA, instead of working directly for the municipality, the city is able to pass off what is very close to being forced labour as something beneficial to the community.
One could argue that by turning labour done for not-for-profits and charities into a punishment, we are actually stigmatizing that work and making it less likely that people will choose to do it.
The reality is that the solution to many of the problems that ticketing targets is simply creating a better society. If you don’t want people to loiter and urinate in public (both ticketable offenses), make sure they are housed and have access to public facilities.
If you don’t want people to drive unsafe vehicles, or eat in their cars, ensure that public transit is affordable, accessible, and effective, and that people don’t have to live out of their vehicles. You could also make the cost of a ticket proportional to someone’s income so the poor aren’t unfairly disadvantaged; however, this is still only treating a symptom of the problem and should only be looked at as a bridge solution on the way to building better communities.
We need to look at why we penalize the behaviours that we do, and what can be done besides imposing financial and time burdens on those who engage in them.