Traffic safety in Buffalo has always been about “mining for gold,” as a former Buffalo councilman once put it. Like other traffic ticketing schemes by the city to generate revenue under the guise of safety, Buffalo’s school zone speed camera program was called out and officially shut down.
But the city must return to the people the more than $1.84 million mined through the program. Refunds of school zone speed camera tickets are not just a legal imperative; they are necessary to correct Buffalo’s pattern of racial and economic injustice.
During a global pandemic, the city expanded its long-standing, predatory traffic ticketing through the school zone speed camera program, balancing its budget on the backs of Black and brown residents. This shameful practice reinforces the system of racial capitalism that this country’s economy is built on.
However, unlike related wealth-extracting practices in Buffalo, the city shockingly admitted that this program violated the law, strengthening the call for refunds of the city’s $1.84 million profit.
Recent findings reveal that the city issued these tickets unlawfully, taking millions of dollars from area residents that it was not entitled to. Unsurprisingly, those hardest hit with school zone speed camera tickets are communities of color and the city’s highest poverty areas. Over 60% of speed camera citations issued to city residents went to ZIP codes where more than half of the population is Black and brown, and almost 30% went to ZIP codes with a poverty rate above 30%.
Tickets add up faster in Black and brown communities, in which people are more likely to be ticketed multiple times for the same minor infractions. At $50 per school zone speed camera ticket, paying them off can have devastating financial ramifications.
Years of accumulating tickets in communities of color fuels the historic wealth gap between Black and white families, rooted in hundreds of years of racist housing, economic, education and succession policies. While Black and brown families suffer with crippling debts, Buffalo’s profits soar.
The Fair Fines + Fees Coalition drove the campaign to shut down the school zone speed camera program. But ending this program is not enough. The city must make reparations for its campaign to extract wealth from Black and brown Buffalonians through punitive and unlawful fines and fees. That starts with refunding every cent collected through the school zone speed camera program to the individuals and communities that were forced to pay.
Jalonda Hill is founder of Colored Girls Bike Too and coordinator of the Fair Fines + Fees Coalition. Phylicia Brown is director of Black Love Resists in the Rust and a member of the Fair Fines + Fees Coalition.