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Alarming rate of unpaid tickets leads CA Latinos to loss of driver's licenses, arrests

  • Police question a man in Los Angeles. (Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

    Police question a man in Los Angeles. (Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)  (2013 AFP)

  • Traffic makes its way along Interstate 80 on July 1, 2015 in Berkeley, California.

    Traffic makes its way along Interstate 80 on July 1, 2015 in Berkeley, California.  (2015 Getty Images)

An extensive report released Monday shows that Latinos and African-Americans in California are much more likely to drive a vehicle without a license because of unpaid tickets – and then get arrested for it. A situation that perpetuates cycles of poverty and inequality, the civil rights group that compiled it wrote.

In some places, Latino drivers account for more than 60 percent of the suspended licenses, far ahead of whites and other minorities such as blacks and Asian-Americans.

The report, titled "Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California" and published Monday by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, was based on Census Bureau data from 2014, records from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and information from 15 police and sheriff's departments in the state.

"Individuals who cannot afford to pay an infraction citation are being arrested, jailed and prosecuted, and are losing their licenses and their livelihoods," the report concluded, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"The communities impacted by these policies are disproportionately communities of color."

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From September 2013 to September 2015, 85 percent of  the 20,000 people arrested for driving with suspended licenses in Los Angeles County were African-American and Latino.

The report included remarkably granular information for the Bay Area, including a map showing that in parts of the city of Richmond, for instance, the Latino drivers accounted for more than 62 percent of the suspended licenses, with blacks at 20.4, Asian-Americans at 7.3 percent and whites at 11.1 percent.

Last year, the Times said, California's Legislative Analyst's Office released figures showing that uncollected court-ordered debt had grown to more than $10 billion in the state.

In the state of California it is a misdemeanor to drive with a suspended license, and judges can issue warrants for drivers who fail to pay a ticket or appear in court to contest it.

The report’s release came on the eve of a Tuesday state senate hearing on a bill that would prevent the DMV from suspending licenses for unpaid tickets or failing to show up in court.

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