The U.S. Department of Justice has learned what probably the residents of Ferguson, Missouri knew all along—that the majority white Ferguson Police Department engaged in a pattern and practice of violating the constitutional rights and civil rights of African Americans in Ferguson. While the Justice Department report will not be released until Wednesday, portions are said to reveal a scathing racially biased system against blacks. What is known so far more than aptly reveals why the residents of Ferguson were especially overcome and boiling over with anger and raw emotions this past summer over the killing of unarmed Michael Brown. Michael Brown was one person of many others targeted in a city full of racial bias by its police force. The numbers are startling to say the least and show a pattern of what amounted to rampant civil rights violations.
- The African American population of Ferguson is 67%.
- 93% of all people arrested were African American.
- 90% of all tickets and citations issued were African American.
- 85% of drivers stopped were African Americans (aka driving while black).
- 88% of use of force was targeted against African Americans.
- 92% of disturbing the peace cases were African American.
- Of those stopped in their cars and searched, African Americans were 26% less likely to have anything illegal during the car search.
- And here’s the one where Michael Brown was approached by Officer Wilson. 95% of all citations for walking in the street were African American.
And these are just the numbers known as of today. The full report which reviewed police data provided by the Ferguson Police Department over a period of 2 years will not be released until Wednesday. From the review of the statistics, it is clear that the Ferguson police violated the constitutional rights of its African American residents. The Ferguson Police department will now have two options. It can either enter into a settlement with the Justice Department which will require the Ferguson Police to make specific improvements to their training, hiring, retention and policies to eradicate its past illegal practices. The Ferguson Police Department could refuse and face a law suit. With the numbers shown, it is not likely that they would have a good chance of defending these figures. Whatever is decided, change will not occur overnight. But change will occur. It’s not like the Ferguson Police Department can blame these statistics on a few bad apples in their police force. These numbers speak glaringly for themselves. And they paint an alarmingly racist police force.
In the African American community in Ferguson and throughout the country, there is skepticism of fair treatment of blacks by police officers. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Ferguson, Los Angeles, New York, or southern cities, the police relations among blacks is dismal in many cities. Many white Americans almost never experience any ill will or bias directed at them by police and clearly never experience any ill treatment due to their race. And due to that fact, it makes it difficult for some whites to understand that the racial bias problem exists. And the data revealed by Ferguson’s police department shows the proof in the numbers at least for Ferguson.
Ferguson is not the first city to be found in violation of civil rights against its black residents. Twenty-five other cities have entered into settlements with the Justice Department and have included Pittsburgh (1999), New Orleans (2012), Los Angeles, Detroit and Oakland to name a few. In 1994, the Department of Justice was empowered by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act to investigate police departments for systemic violations of constitutional rights. In the case of Los Angeles, a 12 year process occurred.
The Justice Department’s findings gives little solace to the family of Michael Brown. In a separate report, Darren Wilson, the officer responsible for killing Michael Brown has been cleared. It may give hope to a new beginning in police relations in Ferguson albeit over time. Only time will tell.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who appears frequently in the media discussing issues on race and gender in the law.