The Book of Deuteronomy may prohibit clothing with differing thread types, but it says nothing about mismatched window coverings.  

Leave that to the fine folks running Pagedale, Missouri.  They find mismatched curtains so offensive to decency and good order they have outlawed them.  They have also outlawed window screens with holes, walking on the left side of a crosswalk, and wearing pants below the waist.  You can spend three months in jail for committing the crimes on this list.

Is there a more American summer scene than a family in the yard socializing while men work the grill spatula with one hand  and holding a cold one in the other?  If you live in Pagedale and don’t have a backyard suitable for your Weber, you are out of luck.  You are prohibited from grilling at all unless it happens to be a national holiday, and if you are grilling on a national holiday, it’s a crime to do so while having a beer.  Yes, Pagedale prohibits having an alcoholic beverage within 150 feet of a “barbecue unit or outdoor cooking apparatus”

With laws like that, you might think the citizens of Pagedale are rich elites trying to keep those with unconventional window dressings and other riff-raff out of their view.  You would be wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Pagedale is 93.4% Black, where almost 30% of the residents live below the poverty line.  This is not a story where Richie Rich is trying to keep the neighborhood free from undesirables, this is a story where those who feed off the lifeblood of others are leeching off the only host available to them – the poor citizens of Pagedale.

speed trap

Do you know that town with the speed trap that you try not to drive through because the police will use the thinnest thread of an excuse to write you a ticket?  Pagedale is that town.  They can’t get enough from the cars however, because of the state government in Missouri, who have capped the total revenue a municipality may take in from traffic fines.  It used to be a maximum of 30%, and was lowered to 12.5% in the aftermath of the Michael Brown riots. There is no cap on revenue towns may take in from municipal fines.  

Organizations and the people that run them do respond to incentives.  The incentives to change revenue generation to municipal fines has led to – you guessed it – more municipal fines.  “Pagedale handed out 2,255 citations for these types of offenses last year — or nearly two per household. That’s a nearly 500 percent increase from five years ago, according to an analysis of state court data by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.”  

Many small towns around St. Louis have similar schemes to bilk the residents for the benefit of those who cash checks made up of citizen fines.  Radley Balko and Arch City Defenders have done a great job of reporting on these fiefdoms last year, and now the Institute for Justice is suing Pagedale.  IJ announced this week that it files a class-action lawsuit against the municipality for violating the due process rights and excessive fines protections against those unlucky enough to live there.  From the release:

“This case demonstrates that property rights are fundamentally civil rights,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney William Mauer, who is lead counsel in the lawsuit. “Pagedale treats its residents like walking, talking ATMs, making withdrawals by issuing tickets for ridiculous things that no city has a right to dictate.”

“By targeting a set amount of revenue from fines and fees from its residents, Pagedale turns policing upside-down,” said IJ attorney Josh House. “Rather than protecting and serving the public, Pagedale sets a revenue goal and then uses its code enforcement powers to achieve it.”

The Institute for Justice was founded with a grant from the Koch brothers, but I don’t think that will make the news stories on this group fighting for the rights of poor black folks.  Kudos to them for seeing to it that these Americans’ liberty is not stolen in bits and pieces by those looking to keep their personal gravy train rolling along.