Ferguson: Department of Justice investigates

U-News Staff

The U.S. Department of Justice released a report on Wednesday, March 4, regarding Ferguson, MO police procedures and court practices. The report details multiple racial disparities and injustices within the law enforcement community.

The findings:

Municipal Court Practices: Ferguson’s court system continued to emphasize generating revenue through many of its court practices. The Ferguson court system added several penalties and fees for missed court appearances or missed payments, creating “unnecessary barriers” and making it difficult for people to resolve violations.

“Patrol assignments and schedules are geared toward aggressive enforcement of Ferguson’s municipal code, with insufficient thought given to whether enforcement strategies promote public safety or unnecessarily undermine community trust and cooperation.”

Racial Bias: Ferguson police stereotyped and targeted African American citizens.  These racial biases were found to be both intentional and deeply impactful on the African American community in Ferguson. The report stated that the racially motivated practices of the police department damaged police authority and community trust.

“Our investigation indicates that this disproportionate burden on African Americans cannot be explained by any difference in the rate at which people of different races violate the law.  Rather, our investigation has revealed that these disparities occur, at least in part, because of unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African Americans.”

Direct Evidence of Racial Bias: The investigation found evidence of courts and law enforcement expressing intolerant views on race, ethnicity and religion through e-mails and interviews. These communications were described as “unequivocally derogatory, dehumanizing, and demonstrative of impermissible bias.”

“A March 2010 email mockingly read: ‘I be so glad that dis be my last child support payment!’ ‘Month after month, year after year, all dose payments!’”

“October 2011: An email included a photo of a group of topless, dancing black women, seemingly in Africa, with the caption: ‘Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.’”

“A December 2011 email included jokes playing on offensive Muslim stereotypes.” 

One Person’s Story:

“In December 2011, officers deployed a canine to bite an unarmed 14-year-old African-American boy who was waiting in an abandoned house for his friends. Four officers, including a canine officer, responded to the house mid-morning after a caller reported that people had gone inside.”

“Describing the offense as a burglary in progress even though the facts showed that the only plausible offense was trespassing, the canine officer’s report stated that the dog located a second boy hiding in a storage closet under the stairs in the basement. The officer peeked into the space and saw the boy, who was 5’5” and 140 pounds, curled up in a ball, hiding.”

“The officer then deployed the dog, which bit the boy’s arm, causing puncture wounds.”

Another Person’s Story:

“…in the summer of 2012, a 32-year-old African-American man sat in his car cooling off after playing basketball in a Ferguson public park.  An officer pulled up behind the man’s car, blocking him in, and demanded the man’s Social Security number and identification.  Without any cause, the officer accused the man of being a pedophile, referring to the presence of children in the park, and ordered the man out of his car for a pat-down, although the officer had no reason to believe the man was armed.  The officer also asked to search the man’s car.  The man objected, citing his constitutional rights.  In response, the officer arrested the man, reportedly at gunpoint, charging him with eight violations of Ferguson’s municipal code.  One charge, Making a False Declaration, was for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of “Michael”), and an address which, although legitimate, was different from the one on his driver’s license.”

Kansas City’s Take: Lawmakers have asked for change and reform in response to the public release of the Department of Justice report.

“One of the most significant things we can do is pass a video and audio law,” said Brandon Ellington, (D-Kansas City) Chair of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus in the Missouri Times. “You can actually go back, watch video and hear audio of an incident.  That’s not going to stop racist practices, but at least it allows someone who is a victim of abusive practices to seek justice.  I’m disheartened that this body has not taken up that legislation at all yet.”