Can I help to #shutdownthefuckbarrel in a small, personal way?
March 26, 2015 2:43 PM   Subscribe

There was a recent thread on the green about what happens when people are arrested, And then I saw the 22 March 2015 episode of John Oliver's Last Week Tonight that discussed how people get screwed over with municipal fines. How can I help to Shut Down The Fuck Barrel?

It's been bugging me for a few years now: more and more it seems like if you make one wrong move in America, you can lose your job, your house, your family, your savings ... everything.

Somebody can't afford to pay a ticket or fine, and months later they're arrested, they lose their job, their landlord tosses everything they own out onto the street because they don't pay rent ... it makes me sick.

And often when I hear these stories, it all starts over some trivial amount of money, like $40. And I find myself thinking "I wish I could have paid that $40 for them". And yes, I know I sound like an entitled bastard for thinking that $40 is "trivial". That's a lot of money to many people. Whether it's obvious or not, I count my blessings that I am at a place in life where I can think of $40 as "trivial".

I'm not by any means rich. But I could afford to help a few people out.

So what I'm asking is, basically: is there some way I can arrange to anonymously pay off some number of these kinds of bullshit trivial fines for random strangers? A few years ago I read about "Layaway Santas" who hang around at Target or Wal-Mart and pay off the layaway accounts of random strangers. Is there some way I could do this for people with, I dunno, unpaid parking tickets (or whatever)?

I don't know a whole lot about how cops, fines, municipalities, warrants, tickets and so forth work. I don't want people hitting me up for donations. I also don't want to get mugged. I'm also somewhat concerned that if I were to just go down to the county courthouse and start handing people cash to bail themselves out or stuff like that, that I'd end up in jail myself. But I'm asking y'all: is there any way I could pull something like this off?

There are probably charities that endeavor to do this kind of thing. But I'd like to do this on a more personal level, ala

Clerk: "That will be $100."
Person: "But - I don't have $100!"
Me (to Clerk): "Here's $100."

Although maybe this simply isn't possible. I'd like to stay as anonymous as possible.

If anyone has ever done such a thing, I'd really like to hear about it.

I understand that a "real" solution to this issue would involve politics and laws and so forth. But for the purpose of this question, I'd like to focus on how I could help people in the immediate here and now. Can it be done? How?

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (18 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
TLDR: So what I'm asking is, basically: is there some way I can arrange to anonymously pay off some number of these kinds of bullshit trivial fines for random strangers?
posted by philip-random at 2:55 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just post on Craigslist in your town asking people to write you with potential issues along these lines. Ask for documented evidence of the fine, their identity, etc. Create a throwaway email account obviously. It's a ton of work but you'll definitely get enough candidates.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:56 PM on March 26, 2015

If you want to be anonymous you could actually crowdsource the payment of the fine in person. If you have Taskrabbit in your town you could post a job, send someone cash and pay them 10/hr to pay people's fines and send you videos of it as evidence or something.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:59 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Better yet get active in changing these unreasonable fines the indigent can't pay. It's a scam anyway, government getting average working people to pay for services, police et al. by being levied unreasonable fines. In some cases rural police departments fund themselves by posting $350 for a Hollywood stop violation on an empty intersection. They do it because they can.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 3:04 PM on March 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

So this guy got mad when someone did this for him... Don't assume it's always welcome. Then again, other times it is.
posted by cecic at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2015

Rolling Jubilee buys up debt with a view to canceling it rather than collecting. So far the just over $700,00 they've collected has wiped out close to thirty two million in debt. It's a little slower and more diffusely targeted than maybe you'd like but the impact is potentially huge.
posted by firstdrop at 3:22 PM on March 26, 2015 [28 favorites]

Not the exact same thing, but you might be interested in reading this recent Ask:

I want to give money away. I can't seem to figure out how.
posted by Michele in California at 3:50 PM on March 26, 2015

I have done this. Here is how. In va at least when you owe a ticket you go to a county or district website to pay the fine. You can look up tickets by number but also by name. Just pick a common random last name and you can see everyone else's (fascinating). From there you can go I to the details of their ticket just as if it was yours and pay it.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 4:00 PM on March 26, 2015 [11 favorites]

It's not just municipal fines, but people at domestic violence shelters are in extraordinary circumstances and could use an angel to step in and pay order for protection fees, negotiate away old leases that they had to leave, new damage deposits, clean up old debts, and buy basically everything to start a new household from scratch.
You could call a shelter and tell them you have $x you will grant for a kind of debt or damage deposits or whatever you determine. You certainly could be anonymous to the recipients.
posted by littlewater at 4:45 PM on March 26, 2015 [19 favorites]

Rolling Jubilee has folded and they're not taking any more donations.
posted by jpe at 4:58 PM on March 26, 2015

One way to maximize the impact of your donation could be through your local legal aid, especially if they have a debtor clinic. Legal aid organizations also tend to be active in both the courts and lobbying, with a focus on how to create profound changes to the systems that contribute to the ongoing cycle of poverty.

The Washington Post recently reported that "over the past couple of years, at least 1,200 legal aid workers, about 1 in 7, have lost their jobs," so I encourage you to consider your local organization, because they can find the 'test cases' that help stop abusive collection practices on a larger scale.

The American Bar Association has a directory of legal aid organizations here.
posted by Little Dawn at 5:07 PM on March 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

Google "modest needs."
posted by bunderful at 8:06 PM on March 26, 2015

Rolling Jubilee hasn't folded, but it's true they're not seeking donations at this time.
posted by Scram at 8:49 PM on March 26, 2015

Sad to say, I think the cops and municipal hacks love your solution. They keep oppressing, and with a broader base for funding.
posted by LonnieK at 8:49 PM on March 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

From that story about the guy and the ducks:
Shaw said there’s nothing to prevent someone unconnected with a case from paying a fine online, as all one needs is the case number and person’s name, which can be obtained through open records on the court website.
If that's generally true, maybe someone could write an app that scrapes online databases to identify fines levied against people, or you could just cruise the database manually, but I don't know how you'd determine who deserved to have another person pay their fines unless you compared them to a list of people on food stamps or something, which I guess isn't going to be easy or legal. Maybe identify certain types of fines that you think are bad (marijuana offenses, for example) and focus on paying them?

But I would throw my money at the ACLU if I were looking for a way to give legal aid to harmless people being fucked over by merciless governments.
posted by pracowity at 2:30 AM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

You could hang out in the parking lot of a payday lender and give a contact card (or cash?) to people coming in the door.
posted by CathyG at 9:32 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think I would give money to change-the-system orgs, myself, because it would have the potential to actually affect more than a few individuals. That could be the ACLU (which does good work, but more often individuals facing much more serious consequences), but more likely a group like ProPublica doing watchdog investigations, or perhaps a group in the criminal justice arena that does more policy lobbying. I don't really know them, but by way of example, a Ferguson-related, Occupy-related group that has formed is Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment. But anyway, your question was about more personal ways; that's mostly not how I roll, but I respect that.
posted by dhartung at 4:40 PM on March 27, 2015

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