“Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department” (2015) was put out by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) on March 4th. Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St Louis, is where a White police officer last summer killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager. It led to riots and protests that made world news.
The Ferguson Police Department (FPD) was not “just doing its job”:
“This investigation has revealed a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct within the Ferguson Police Department that violates the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and federal statutory law.”
Black people were not “imagining racism”:
“Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities.”
Top people in the FPD and the court sent racist emails, like this one:
“An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.'”
The police and the court stereotype Blacks as lacking “personal responsibility”. The DOJ found that it was, in fact, police officers and court officials who lacked personal responsibility.
Predator, not protector: The main aim of the FPD is not public safety but raising money for the city budget. Officer “productivity” is measured by the number of citations issued. Therefore:
“They are inclined to interpret the exercise of free-speech rights as unlawful disobedience, innocent movements as physical threats, indications of mental or physical illness as belligerence.”
Little is done to keep the police in line or follow up on citizen complaints.
The court does not hold the police accountable because they are in the same moneymaking business, through court fees and fines. It does little to help the poor pay off their fines, like through community service. Instead it keeps adding fines for those unable to pay on time or make court dates. A $151 parking ticket, for example, can in time turn into $1091, two arrests and six days in jail.
That is not uncommon: in 2013 alone, the court issued 9,000 arrest warrants. Of these, 8,300 were for Blacks. Ferguson has 14,200 Blacks, counting children.
Blacks make up 67% of Ferguson, yet account for:
- 90% of citations,
- 92% of arrest warrants,
- 93% of arrests,
- 94% of Failure to Comply charges,
- 95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges,
- 100% of those bit by police dogs.
Their cars are twice as likely to be searched – even though contraband is found 26% less often.
“this disproportionate burden on African Americans cannot be explained by any difference in the rate at which people of different races violate the law.”
Instead it is due, at least in part, to “unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African Americans.”
That undermines the trust of Blacks, which in turn makes it harder for the police to maintain public safety, making policing unnecessarily dangerous.
Reform: The DOJ and Ferguson are working out the needed reforms. The report lists some possible ones.
– Abagond, 2015.
Update (February 12th 2016): The DOJ and Ferguson authorities agreed on the reforms needed to stop the police from regularly violating the 1st, 4th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution. But then the city council rejected the reforms! So now the DOJ is taking Ferguson to court to force the reforms on it.
Sources: Mainly the DOJ report (PDF) itself.