The Department of Justice released its report on relations between the police and the public in Ferguson, Missouri, after last summer’s shooting of Michael Brown. Put simply, it is devastating.
In one example after another, the report described a city that used its police and courts as moneymaking ventures, a place where officers stopped and handcuffed people without probable cause, hurled racial slurs, used stun guns without provocation, and treated anyone as suspicious merely for questioning police tactics.
The report gave credence to many of the grievances aired last year by African-Americans in angry, sometimes violent protests after the deadly police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old. Though the Justice Department separately concluded that the officer, Darren Wilson, who is white, violated no federal laws in that shooting, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said investigations revealed the root of the rage that brought people into the streets.
“Seen in this context — amid a highly toxic environment, defined by mistrust and resentment, stoked by years of bad feelings, and spurred by illegal and misguided practices — it is not difficult to imagine how a single tragic incident set off the city of Ferguson like a powder keg,” Mr. Holder said.
The findings will force Ferguson, a working-class city near St. Louis that is about two-thirds black but has a mostly white police force, to make changes or face a federal civil rights lawsuit. Justice Department officials, who met with city leaders to discuss their findings this week, said that it appeared that Ferguson was open to making changes that would head off a court battle.
Caitlin MacNeal at TPM points out five examples of police misconduct directed at African-Americans, including arresting a man for sitting in his car, a woman for refusing to take off bracelets, and busting a man for trespassing at a home he was invited into. And that’s just the official police business.
What is most shocking is the banality of it all. The police treat the citizens as if they have nothing better to do than look for reasons to arrest people out of boredom or amusement. The exchange of racist e-mails directed at the president and his wife is the stuff that middle schoolers do when they’re sitting in a stuffy classroom waiting for the bell to ring.
The city is already taking steps to change the situation by firing two officials over the e-mails, but that’s not going to do anything other than provoke wingnuts into saying they lost their jobs for exercising their First Amendment rights and they’re martyrs to the cause of political correctness. It also won’t change how the police department functions.
John Cole at Balloon Juice poses a good question: “Can you imagine what white people would do if they were subjected to this kind of abuse on a daily basis? Half of us have spent the last six wearing tricorner hats waving guns around in public trying to secede because a black man wanted to give us access to health care.”
It also makes me wonder how many police departments in this country could come away from such an investigation without revealing many of the same problems. That’s not to say that every cop shop in America is infested with racist thugs, but how many of them can say it couldn’t happen in their town, be it Missouri, Florida, or Vermont?