On the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver slammed America’s system for fining municipal violations. And his attack inspired the Twitter hashtag #ShutDownTheFuckBarrel.
“We have all committed municipal violations,” Oliver began. “And if you’ve never gotten a ticket for one, congratulations on not getting caught.”
Indeed, everyone in America has had to pay one of these small fines at some point in their lives. But while this is no big deal for the upper class, those who can’t afford the fine find themselves in an unbreakable cycle of debt- or, as Oliver called it, “the fuck barrel.”
“No one is saying that people who break the law should not be punished,” John Oliver said on Last Week Tonight. “Not only should municipalities not be balancing their books on the backs of some of their most vulnerable citizens, but we cannot have a system where committing a minor violation can end up putting you in — and I’m going to use a legal term of art here — the fuck barrel.”
This is especially the case for those who commit driving violations, whether it’s not wearing a seat belt or speeding. People who can’t afford to pay their fine immediately often have their license suspended. And this makes it tough for them to get to work, hurting their ability to earn money towards paying the fine.
“Most Americans drive to work, and if you can’t do that, you’ve got a problem,” John Oliver said during this #ShutDownTheFuckBarrel rant. “In New Jersey, a survey of low-income drivers who had their license suspended found that 64 percent had lost their jobs as a result, which doesn’t help anyone. You need them to pay their fine, but you’re taking away their means of paying it.”
Those who can’t afford the fine can sometimes sign up for a payment plan. But this often requires an upfront payment. Add in late fees and court costs, and this small municipal fine could turn into thousands of dollars.
Cities charge these high fees so they can get money for local endeavors without increasing taxes. This was particularly the case in Ferguson, Missouri, where a police commander reportedly bragged about seeing a long line of residents waiting to pay municipal fees. “The only people who should be that excited about people waiting in line to hand over way too much money are Apple executives,” John Oliver said during Last Week Tonight.
In some places, private companies take over the task of collecting fine money from individuals who commit municipal violations. This often leads to even higher fees for those who can’t make payments on time.
Some of these municipal violators even get thrown in jail for not paying off their initially small fines. So it’s no wonder John Oliver urged Last week Tonight fans to help #ShutDownTheFuckBarrel. Even Cher got involved!
— Cher (@cher) March 23, 2015
Watch John Oliver encourage viewers to #ShutDownTheFuckBarrel