BY CASH MICHAELS
OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
In the aftermath of the fatal August 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. that touched off weeks of national debate and demonstrations, the US Justice Dept. has concluded that even before that fateful incident, the police department there demonstrated clear patterns of racial bias towards its black citizens.
According to published reports this week, a Justice Dept. review, that The New York Times called “scathing,” found that the Ferguson Police Dept. routinely acted on racial stereotypes to make a disproportionate number of unwarranted traffic stops, arrests and to employ the use of excessive force.
The report stated flatly that the constitutional rights of African Americans were repeatedly violated.
And the racism wasn’t limited to just Ferguson police officers. Emails secured during the exhaustive federal review of some 35,000 pages of the small city’s records, in addition to hundreds of interviews, revealed racist emails from municipal court officials about black people on official documents.
A 2008 Ferguson official email joked that President Obama couldn’t be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” Another racist email from a Ferguson public official citied a local black woman receiving a check from Crimestoppers two weeks after she had had an abortion.
The Justice Dept. is expected to now force the Ferguson Police Dept. to make substantial changes in both policies and practices, if not personnel, under the threat of a federal court order if an agreement cannot be reached.
Published reports say Ferguson officials are cooperating.
The Justice Dept. report confirmed what many black longtime citizens of Ferguson have been saying ever since the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by Officer Darren Wilson last year. Even though Ferguson is 67 percent black, African Americans historically shared little of the power and control over their town, or their lives.
Whites literally dominate all areas of city government, particularly the police force, where there are only three black officers. As a result from 2012 to 2014, the Justice report says, African Americans made up 85 percent of all traffic stops, 90 percent of all citations, 93 percent of all arrests, and an astonishing 88 percent of cases where police used force.
Given those numbers, the Justice report cited an even more astonishing statistic – even though blacks were at least twice as likely as whites to be stopped in traffic and searched, whites were found more than blacks to be carrying illegal drugs and weapons.
The report makes clear that the majority of the black traffic stops and arrests were without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. And part of the motivation for the traffic stops was charging fines and fees to the mostly low-income blacks that were forced to go to court repeatedly.
The resulting revenues, the second largest source behind sales taxes, literally helped to balance the Ferguson city budget, the Justice report says.
Darren Wilson, the now former Ferguson police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown last August, will not be charged with a civil rights violation in the matter, published reports say. Outgoing US Attorney General Eric Holder says he’d like to see the threshold for making civil rights charges stick in police shooting cases lowered.