(An iconic photo of a Ferguson protester throwing tear gas back at police)
It’s been over 200 days since unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson. Civil unrest followed, with protests and the #BlackLivesMatter movement demanding justice for Mike Brown and the thousands of other victims of racially-motivated police brutality.
Protests were met with even more police brutality, as Ferguson was subjected to a state of emergency, curfews, and a media blackout. Journalists and protesters who refused to submit were fired upon with tear gas and rubber bullets, a clear violation of the First Amendment which guarantees a free press and the right to assemble.
While Mike Brown lay dead in the ground at 18 years old, officer Darren Wilson got off scot-free and received thousands of dollars in online donations. 200 days later, the Department of Justice led by Attorney General Eric Holder has concluded its investigation into the Ferguson unrest, and released its findings. You can read the full report here.
Ferguson officers repeatedly use racist language and racist stereotypes:
- Officials have been recorded making a series of racist emails. Among them is an email depicting President Obama as a chimpanzee, a racist joke which claimed that the best way to prevent crime is to get black women to abort their babies, and one in which a bare-chested dancing African woman was accompanied by the caption “Michelle Obama’s high school reunion”. Other emails involved stereotypes about Muslims. Worst of all, officials in charge of ensuring the police treat all races equally participated in the racist emails.
- During the DOJ investigation, many Ferguson officers claimed that African-Americans lack “personal responsibility”.
- Officers often use racist language when dealing with suspects. After officers responded to an argument at an African-American man’s apartment, the man claimed there was no reason for him to be arrested. The officer reportedly told the man “n*gger I can find something to lock you up on”. When he told officers “good luck with that”, his face was slammed into a wall and he was called a “motherf*cker”. Another incident involved an African-American man and his group of friends who were subject to verbal racist abuse by Ferguson PD officers as they walked by.
Ferguson officers employ racial bias and disproportionately target African-Americans:
- Officers almost always target African-Americans in traffic stops. The DOJ investigation found that African-Americans make up 85% of all traffic stops, and made up 90% of all citations issued. In one incident, an African-American man was accused of having faulty equipment on his car, but when he asked to demonstrate that the equipment was working perfectly, an officer brandished his taser at the man, and another officer said “let’s see how many tickets you’re going to get”. One woman who parked her car illegally in 2007 ended up being arrested twice, spending six days in jail and being fined over $1,000. Another who was merely driving was pulled over and verbally abused by an officer who wanted to check if the man had any outstanding warrants. When he found no warrants, the officer rudely told the man to get out of his face.
Ferguson officers commit violent and unlawful acts of police brutality:
- In one incident, an unarmed 14 year old African-American boy was savagely attacked by a police dog and beaten whilst on the ground by officers, all for waiting for his friends in an abandoned house. Of all the dog bites recorded, every single bitten person was African-American.
- In another incident, an African-American man was accused of being a paedophile for cooling down in his car after playing baseball, and when the man argued he had constitutional rights, he was arrested at gunpoint.
- After a detained African-American man stated that he’d done nothing wrong, an officer fired his taser which caused the man to fall to the ground and writhe in pain. Once on the ground, the man was again fired at with the taser for 20 seconds.
- In another incident, an African-American man was stopped after being seen talking to somebody in a truck. The officer searched the man without probable cause, and when the man said he’d done nothing wrong, the officer jammed his taser into the man’s back, causing him to fall to the floor and writhe in pain. Once on the floor, the officer immediately used the taser again for 20 seconds.
- In another incident, an African-American man was detained for allegedly trespassing at his girlfriend’s house, despite being invited there. The man resisted arrest and was violently subdued by several officers who used their fists and tasers. The man was left with lacerations to his head and severe bleeding.
- Between 2012 and 2014, African-Americans made up 93% of all arrests by Ferguson officers, despite being 26% less likely than other people to carry contraband.
- “In July 2011, a correctional officer used a [taser] to drive-stun an African-American male inmate three times after he tried to hang himself with material torn from a medical dressing and banged his head on the cell wall. That same month, a correctional officer used a [taser] against an African-American inmate with bipolar disorder who broke the overhead glass light fixture and tried to use it to cut his wrists. According to the correctional officer, the glass was “safety glass” and could not be used to cut the skin.”
Ferguson officers have no regard for the Constitution, and usually deny suspects their rights:
- The report claims that officers “are inclined to interpret the exercise of free-speech rights as unlawful disobedience, innocent movements as physical threats, indications of mental or physical illness as belligerence” and employ a “pattern of unconstitutional policing”.
- The report alleges that the First Amendment and the Fifth Amendment may have been breached, as officers arrested people under “contempt of cop” offences such as as recording the actions of the police, talking back to officers, or demanding that their rights are respected.
- The report also documents how a lawful protest was broken up and protesters were told “everybody here is going to jail”.
The Ferguson PD is riddled with corruption:
- Officers usually place revenue above public safety, and are driven more by collecting money through tickets than keeping the roads safe. Similarly, arrest warrants are used not out of public interest, but as threats to make people pay outstanding fines.
- Jail time is used as a deterrent but is not considered payment. Those arrested and incarcerated for failure to pay fines or municipal warrants still owe the same amount after they are released, meaning that the jail time is a form of retaliation not a form of recognized punishment.
- Officers and city officials continuously write off tickets for their friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances. Court officials like the Municipal Judge and supervising Ferguson PD officers routinely eliminate fines, fees and parking tickets for people they know, all the while claiming that African-Americans lack “personal responsibility”.
The report makes a number of recommendations, but does not support disbanding the Ferguson police force and absorbing it under the wider St. Louis county force, as some protesters hoped it would do. Instead, the report issues a series of warnings that the PD may be sued by the federal government if it does not implement meaningful change and pro-actively combat the use of racial stereotypes in its forces.
These measures include but are not limited to: Outlawing the use of arrest quotas, employing racial diversity, and training officers on how to de-escalate a situation without resorting to violence. Although the report does not call for immediate dismantlement, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that dismantling the Ferguson PD is on the table if it refuses to implement any and all of the suggested reforms.
At the time that this post was published, one officer had been fired for racist emails and two others are being investigated. Mike Brown’s killer was cleared of all charges because the DOJ report failed to establish in its report that Brown was denied his constitutional rights, and failed to determine that he had his hands up when he was shot.
After the decision not to prosecute Darren Wilson, protesters outside government buildings in Ferguson were again handcuffed and detained by police.
Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…