In a report released Wednesday, the Department of Justice concluded that Ferguson, MO’s police department had routinely violated the constitutional rights of its Black citizens. Officially stating what has been glaringly obvious to the community of Ferguson (and outsiders), the DOJ concluded a six-month-long investigation into allegations of Civil Rights violations. The catalyst of this investigation was the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old, Michael Brown, by Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson last August.
In the shooting itself, Officer Wilson was cleared of charges of wrong-doing and civil rights violations, since the report concluded they could not find evidence to disprove Wilson’s claim that he feared for his life. The DOJ released a separate report on the entire police department of Ferguson, however, detailing egregious racism that was so routine that officers felt completely comfortable sending racist emails through their department’s email, with no concern whatsoever of receiving discipline for such behavior.
The Washington Post cites examples and evidence of the entrenched racist practices, such as:
A. Every single victim of a police officer’s dog’s bite was Black.
B. Blacks are disproportionately detained and arrested – not because Blacks commit more crimes in Ferguson, but because of “unlawful bias” on the part of the police department there.
C. Police force tactics were shaped by revenue goals, rather than public safety goals.
D. Time spent in jail was not counted as time served, and didn’t result in a reduction of the fines owed.
The New York Times summarized other alarming aspects of the Justice Department’s report, including the findings that 95% of those jailed for more than two days were Black, and 93% of those arrested were Black, though Blacks make up only 67% of Ferguson’s population.
Those findings reinforce what the city’s black residents have been saying publicly since the shooting in August, that the criminal justice system in Ferguson works differently for blacks and whites. A black motorist who is pulled over is twice as likely to be searched as a white motorist, even though searches of white drivers are more likely to turn up drugs or other contraband, the report found. – Matt Apuzzo, New York Times
CNN reports that Ferguson’s mayor, James Knowles, acknowledges changes must be made, and claim some were already underway before the report’s release. Nevertheless, he cited the need to do better in addressing the Department’s policies and practices towards Ferguson’s Black citizens.
The Department of Justice issued 13 multi-part recommendations covering the final ten pages of its report. These include more transparency in the Municipal Court’s proceedings, overhauling the police department’s fine system, no longer using arrest warrants as a means of revenue collection, and forming better bonds between officers and residents through effective community policing practices. It remains to be seen if Ferguson’s police department will implement the changes successfully, without the city being actually sued by the Justice Department.
According Mr. Apuzzo, however, while the report calls on city officials to acknowledge the rampant civil rights violations and racism present, “Ferguson officials have so far been reluctant to do so.” Unsurprisingly, then, it seems a healthy skepticism and careful monitoring of the situation is in order.
Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Purple Clover, and before that, in Catonsville Patch and Kveller. She has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.” Her piece for The Broad Side, Leaving Gender at the Door, was chosen as a BlogHer Voice of the Year in 2013. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.