Punished for Being Poor: Origin of Fair Towing Alliance
As a rookie police officer William Gorman, founder of the Fair Towing Alliance, ordered the towing of a car for the first time in 1990. The offense was having an out of date vehicle registration. To this day, William has not forgotten that encounter.
The driver was wearing a brown jacket, green corduroy pants, sandals with white socks, and spoke with a heavy Jamaican accent. He begged William not to tow his car since it was the only source of transportation for his family and he would not be able to afford to retrieve the car from the impound lot.
William towed the car as he was taught to do. The man wept knowing he would never see it again.
People Take Notice
An extensive study, Towed Into Debt, was completed In California and was the catalyst for the Fair Towing Alliance.
The study, which informs our actions, included the work of the Public Law Center, Legal Services of Northern California, Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights for San Francisco Bay Area, Bay Area Legal Aid, Western Center on Law and Poverty, American Civil Liberties Union of California, Public Counsel, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, East Bay Community Law Center, Analysis Group.
Why this Matters
On a regular basis in the United States, millions of cars owned by the poor are towed for minor offenses that are neither a matter of public safety nor criminality. Most often the cars are towed for unpaid parking tickets, tags that have not been renewed, or parking in one spot for more than 72 hours. Tickets, tags, and time.
In a high percentage of cases the cars are never retrieved since the owner is unable to pay off the fine for which the car was towed plus the towing and impound fees.
Ironically, many of these tows are conducted by government initiatives that result in the government actually losing money.
A high percentage of owners whose cars are towed lose their jobs, threatening their already fragile finances, the reception of public benefits, an education, housing opportunities, and shelter if they were living in their car.
Punished for Being Poor
If a person does not pay their property taxes the government sends them letters, takes them to court and may eventually garnish their wages or place a lien on their house. If a person does not pay their income taxes the government sends them letters, takes them to court, can garnish their wages, then may take more serious actions.
If a person is too poor to pay a $55 vehicle registration fee – the government takes their car. The process does not begin with letters – it begins with police officers and tow trucks, and the consequences are extraordinary.