Here’s How Ferguson’s New Municipal Judge Is Helping Heal His Community
Just months into his appointment, Judge Donald McCullin is withdrawing warrants, reissuing driver’s licenses, and rebuilding trust by overhauling a trouble justice system.
image via (cc) flickr user fibonacciblue
It’s a series of moves likely to raise eyebrows, but for residents of Ferguson, Missouri, it could be an important step down a path of healing for the embattled community. This week Donald McCullin, the city's recently-appointed municipal judge, announced he would be withdrawing all warrants issued before December 31, 2014. He would also go about rescheduling existing court dates, and restructuring potential penalties, such as fines and community service.
In a released statement, McCullin, who took over Ferguson’s municipal courts just this past June, says “These changes should continue the process of restoring confidence in the Court... and giving many residents a fresh start.”
While withdrawing the warrants doesn’t mean a suspect’s criminal case itself is being erased, it does allow people a fresh chance at re-engaging with the local justice system through rescheduled court dates, alternate sentence options, and a renewed sense of transparency for the legal process as a whole. What’s more, explains St. Louis’ KSDK-TV, in instances where a person’s driver’s license had been suspended by the local Director of Revenue for missing a court date, or failing to pay a fine, those licenses would be eligible for re-issue, pending a final court decision. Similarly, suspects arrested for minor traffic violations will not face incarceration, and will rather be released and provided with another court date. Even the physical location of the municipal court has be changed, with defendants no longer reporting for court appearances at the city administrative building. Court will, instead, be held in the same series of buildings that house the Ferguson Police Department, reports KSDK-TV.
image via (cc) flickr user joegratz
These are the sort of procedural alterations which, while relatively minor-sounding, have the potential for dramatic impact within the community. McCullin’s ruling comes after a recent Justice Department inquiry in which federal investigators found the town frequently used the threat of warrants as a means to compel suspects to pay municipal fines in a system that was heavily biased against African-American residents.
While Judge McCullin’s new ruling represents a very real step toward rebuilding a city so fraught with tension and mistrust, it is ultimately not, in and of itself, a solution. Still, many are hopeful that this move will serve to help bring the community together. Speaking with CNN, Ferguson Township Democratic committeewoman Patricia Bynes said:
“As an activist you are going to stay mad because you are not going to always get all that you want. But because of the pushing and the pressure that protesters put on Ferguson, I am considering it a win and a very big win. It's an olive branch”
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, seems to agree, telling KSDK-TV:
“The Ferguson City Council was informed of the proposed actions by Judge McCullin and applauds the recall of the arrest warrants and the rescission of the driver's license suspensions in compliance with Senate Bill 5 and as a way to restore confidence in the Municipal Court”
Judge McCullin’s ruling comes just over one year after the August 9, 2014 shooting death of Ferguson teenager Mike Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Since then, the Black Lives Matter movement, which sprung up in the wake of Brown’s death, has gone on to become a national effort, with activists and advocates taking to the streets, and the polls, to advance the cause.