Revisiting police misconduct in Ferguson
Luke Chouinard, Staff Writer
Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder released a report on the investigation into the Ferguson police department. The investigation followed the highly controversial confrontation between resident Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson. African American citizens alleged the police department practiced racial profiling in the community that led to a tense environment between residents and law enforcement. They were correct.
The report, which detailed the practices of law enforcement in Ferguson, upheld the decision by the court to not indict Wilson.
Of the court proceeding, the Department of Justice (DOJ) report read, “There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety.”1
Officer Wilson is now completely free of charges, and will not face accusations again from any other government entity.
However, the DOJ’s findings were disturbing, demonstrating the racial culture of the Ferguson Police Department. A 32-year-old African American man had a particularly disturbing encounter with police. The man had just finished with a basketball game at a public park, and was cooling off in his car. Police approached his car, asking for his social security card and identity before illegally searching the car.2 Afterwards, the police arrested the man, citing eight different charges. The man was charged with not wearing a seatbelt- while in a parked car- and making a false declaration, using the name “Mike” instead of “Michael.” The man alleges he lost his job as a result of the circumstances.2
These kinds of constitutional violations were not outliers for African American residents of Ferguson. The report found that African Americans accounted for 95 percent of “failure to comply” and “manner of walking in roadway” charges.2 Additionally, the court demonstrated racial practices, issuing arrest warrants for minor violations like parking tickets.
The DOJ report also found African Americans were disproportionately subjects to use of excessive force. Tasers and police dogs were both utilized frequently by the department, even on children. African Americans accounted for a shocking 90 percent of all uses of force in Ferguson.2
Some of these racial practices were present even with high-ranking individuals in the department. Racist emails were common between administrative officials, often directing the racial humor towards the president.
An email recovered by the investigation from 2008 implied that President Obama would not hold his position long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”
A later email from the department included an illustration of Obama as a chimpanzee.2
Of all the disturbing emails, one truly summarizes the pervasive racism of the Ferguson Police Department.
The email read, “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $3,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said: ‘Crimestoppers.'”2
Despite these findings by the Department of Justice, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch was upset the information was provided to the public.
“The only pattern and practice I can talk about is the pattern and practice of the Department of Justice of leaking information to the media,” he said. “[No one is saying] there haven’t been instances of racial profiling and other profiling, but to suggest that somehow it’s all that goes on out there in fact does a great disservice to everybody.”2
The majority of residents in Ferguson are African American. The Ferguson Police Department only has eight percent African Americans in their ranks.