Wednesday, March 4, 2015

DOJ Report Shows Why Ferguson Exploded

The New York Times reported that:
Ferguson, Mo., is a third white, but the crime statistics compiled in the city over the past two years seemed to suggest that only black people were breaking the law. They accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of tickets and 93 percent of arrests. In cases like jaywalking, which often hinge on police discretion, blacks accounted for 95 percent of all arrests.

The racial disparity in those statistics was so stark that the Justice Department has concluded in a report scheduled for release on Wednesday that there was only one explanation: The Ferguson Police Department was routinely violating the constitutional rights of its black residents.

The report, based on a six-month investigation, provides a glimpse into the roots of the racial tensions that boiled over in Ferguson last summer after a black teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by a white police officer, making it a worldwide flash point in the debate over race and policing in America. It describes a city where the police used force almost exclusively on blacks and regularly stopped people without probable cause. Racial bias is so ingrained, the report said, that Ferguson officials circulated racist jokes on their government email accounts.

In a November 2008 email, a city official said Barack Obama would not be president long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years?” Another email included a cartoon depicting African-Americans as monkeys. A third described black women having abortions as a way to curb crime...

Those findings reinforce what the city’s black residents have been saying publicly since the shooting in August, that the criminal justice system in Ferguson works differently for blacks and whites. A black motorist who is pulled over is twice as likely to be searched as a white motorist, even though searches of white drivers are more likely to turn up drugs or other contraband, the report found.

Minor, largely discretionary offenses such as disturbing the peace and jaywalking were brought almost exclusively against blacks. When whites were charged with these crimes, they were 68 percent more likely to have their cases dismissed, the Justice Department found.
Ferguson is analogous to Soweto or Johannesburg during the Apartheid era. Although Ferguson is 67 percent black, most of the political power is in the hands of the white minority. The mayor and the police chief are white. Only one city council member is black. Only one school board member is black. Out of 53 police officers, only 3 are black. Similar to Apartheid South Africa, the lack of political power inevitably paved the way for racist oppression. The Justice Department report reveals the extent and nature of that oppression. Other than institutionalized racism, there simply is no rational explanation for the stark racial disparities in the force usage, arrests, vehicle stops and vehicle searches.

Now, one  understands why Ferguson literally exploded. For years, African Americans were alienated from power and racial profiled by the police, harassed by the police and brutalized by the police. Those explosive ingredients have been present in Ferguson for years. Ferguson was a powder keg waiting to be lit. The killing of Michael Brown and the grand jury's failure to indict were simply the sparks that the ignited the powder keg. Sadly, if things to do not change soon, there will be more rebellions in America's streets.

The Justice Department's report validates our outrage. It validates the marches and protests in Ferguson and around the country. It absolves the protesters who were arrested. If the people did not march, protest and raise hell, there would be no investigation. Contrary to the rhetoric of some, demonstrations are not outdated. They were still needed in the 21st century. Even relatively progressive administrations need to be pressured to affect social justice.

Elections matter as well. Moreover, if more African Americans voted in Ferguson, there would probably be a black mayor and a black police chief. Perhaps, there would be a predominately black city council and school board. Maybe, there would be no Mike Brown and Darren Wilson.  There would be real black power in Ferguson.  In addition, the election of President Obama made U.S. Attorney Eric Holder's appointment possible. Another administration may not have conducted such a thorough investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. A Romney Administration probably would not have issued such a report.

The Department of Justice's report has the potential to completely transform the Ferguson Police Department. Hopefully, it will eliminate the systemic and institutional racism that plagues the police department. Perhaps, it will prevent another senseless police killing. Justice for Mike Brown and everybody else.

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