Despite calling it “searing,” the Justice Department report on the Ferguson police was a diplomatic response to the tragic incidents that unfolded last summer in Ferguson, Missouri.
The investigation found Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson did not violate the rights of 18-year-old Michael Brown when the white police officer fatally shot the unarmed black teenager.
But the report also accused the nearly all-white police department of routinely discriminating against blacks.
“It’s not difficult to imagine how a single tragic incident set off the City of Ferguson like a powder keg,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference.
The Justice Department accused the Ferguson Police Department of making baseless traffic stops, conducting unreasonable searches and seizures, and using these illegal stops to raise revenue.
From 2012 to 2014, black motorists were more than twice as likely as whites to be searched during traffic stops, but were 26 percent less likely to carry contraband.
According to the feds, Ferguson police not only violated the civil rights of its black citizens, the department also abused their wallets.
As an example of the abuse, Holder cited the case of a woman who received two parking tickets in 2007 that totaled $152. Although the woman paid $550 in fines, was arrested twice and spent six days in jail, today she still owes Ferguson $541.
University of Chicago Professor Craig Futterman, founder of the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, said this policing issue doesn’t just relate to Ferguson.
“We don’t have to go outside of our own backyard . . . to see that black folks are being treated differently and less than by police than whites,” Futterman said.
“African-Americans are stopped, searched and arrested far more frequently than whites. Seventy-five percent of the people shot by police in Chicago over the last decade were black people,” he said.
“Just like Ferguson, there is a deep distrust between police and members of the black community, and that relates as much to the lack of transparency and accountability as it does to unequal treatment. It starts with acknowledging the reality that black folks have been and continue to be treated differently by police than whites.”
But a lot of Chicagoans continue to pretend racial bias is a thing of the past.
“. . . Black folks have borne a disproportionate share of the abuse. And the few percent of officers who repeatedly abuse their power have been allowed to get away with misconduct because of the code of silence, and because of a lack of accountability,” Futterman said.
For instance, Futterman is pressuring the City of Chicago to publicly release the videotape of the fatal police-involved shooting of Laquan McDonald. The 17-year-old was killed last October on the Southwest Side. An autopsy report showed McDonald suffered 16 bullet wounds.
“You have right there a transparency and accountability issue,” Futterman said.
“A black teenager was shot 16 times by a police officer, and there is a video of that shooting. That video shouldn’t be held under lock and key. If you want the community to trust police, we need to acknowledge reality and get in front of it and be honest with people about our problem,” he added.
Obviously, the majority of police officers aren’t abusing black people. But the officers who are discriminating against blacks have to be weeded out — not just in Ferguson.
Having gone through riots and now a scorching condemnation, the City of Ferguson can no longer ignore that it has a policing problem. Hopefully, officials will heed the suggestions in the report and make changes. In the end, this small police department could end up becoming a model for modern-day policing.
But what about us?
How long can we keep our heads in the sand?