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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Justice Department releases scathing Ferguson report

The Justice Department has released a scathing report based on its investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department, in which it says the police department engaged in broad pattern of conduct that routinely violated the constitutional rights of African-Americans.
The DOJ findings include a pattern and practice of disproportionate stops and arrests of blacks without probable cause, unreasonable force, racially bias handling of warrants by municipal courts and a pattern of focusing on revenue over public safety that violated the rights of poor, black residents.
As part of the investigation, federal investigators also uncovered evidence of further racial bias and stereotyping by members of the Ferguson police department and municipal court officials in multiple emails sent from official city email accounts.
The email evidence includes racist jokes that referenced President Barack Obama and another that referred to a refund a black woman received for an abortion as a credit from “Crimestoppers.” 

“And while blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to be stopped while driving, they were 26% less likely to be found with illegal contraband.”
The report comes six months after a white Ferguson police officer shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown Jr. The police shooting death drew widespread scrutiny and allegations of a long history of abuses committed by the overwhelmingly white police force against the city’s majority black population.
Shortly after Brown’s killing by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, the Justice Department announced parallel investigations into the killing itself and of the entire Ferguson police department.
A grand jury in November declined to indict Wilson. He resigned from the police department shortly thereafter.
While there has been little expectation that the Justice Department would file federal civil rights charges against Wilson, with the bar for such charges extremely high, the finding that the police department engaged in some form of racially biased policing seemed more apparent.
African-Americans make up nearly 70% of the city’s population but only about 3% of Ferguson’s police department. Residents have alleged physical abuse, unfair and random stops and searches and even the state’s attorney general in a 2013 report found that black motorists were twice as likely as white drivers to be stopped by police but less likely to be carrying contraband.
The DOJ’s report illustrates the great extent to which the accusations have been borne out by an extensive investigation into the police force’s handling of African-Americans.
According to the report, blacks made up 67% of the population between 2012 and 2014 but were 85% of those subject to a vehicle stop, 90% of those who received a citation from police and 93% of those arrested.

“The Justice Department’s report found that blacks were used in the criminal justice system to buoy the city’s economy and balance its budget.”
And while blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to be stopped while driving, they were 26% less likely to be found with illegal contraband.
In 88% of documented incidents in which police used of force against someone, that person was black. Blacks were even bitten by police dogs disproportionately. In each of the 14 cases involving someone being bitten by a police dog, that person was black.
The poor treatment didn’t end on the street. Blacks in Ferguson were 68% less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by the Municipal Judge and were disproportionately likely to have a warrant issued against them, according to the report. As recently as 2013, 96% of the people who were arrested on an outstanding warrant were black.
But even more than the treatment they received once stopped, the Justice Department’s report found that blacks were used in the criminal justice system to buoy the city’s economy and balance its budget. The practices uncovered by federal investigators have violated residents’ Constitutional Rights of due process and equal protection under the law.
The DOJ’s report found that blacks were also subject to unfair stops and arrest for minor offenses like “manner of walking” in a roadway.
Since 2010, according to the report, the court has collected more revenue for Failure to Appear in court charges than any other charge. The court collected $442,901 in fines for such violations accounting for nearly 25% of total court revenue that year.
The sheer vastness of the net in which law enforcement and court officials cast upon the city’s black community is staggering. As of late 2014 the population of Ferguson was about 21,000. But of that number more than 16,000 had outstanding warrants issued by the city’s municipal courts. The vast majority of those warrants stem from cases involving minor violations such as parking infractions, traffic tickets and housing code violations, according to the report.
These findings, long known by local activists, lawyers and many black residents, underscore the tainted relationship between blacks and police.
Many have pointed no further to that fact that initial reports were that Officer Wilson stopped Brown and a friend for little more than walking down the center of the street.

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