Feds won’t charge Brown’s killer
COMPILED FROM WIRE REPORTS
FERGUSON, Mo. – The Ferguson Police Department – whose actions after Police Officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of young, unarmed Michael Brown in August sparked violent protests and a nationwide outcry – has persistently and repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of Blacks, jailing them for minor offenses far more often than Whites, using traffic stops to arrest them disproportionately and subjecting them to excessive force, a Justice Department investigation has concluded.
Meanwhile, a separate Justice Department investigation determined that the federal government will not bring charges against Wilson in Brown’s death, officials announced Wednesday. A local grand jury declined to bring charges in November.
Out of control
The police department investigation portrays a city in which police dogs were set upon Blacks but not Whites, and where Blacks were seven times more likely to be subjected to force than Whites.
Officers and municipal court officials in the St. Louis suburb exchanged racist emails, the investigation found, including one from 2008 predicting that President-elect Obama would not be in office long because, it asked, “what Black man holds a steady job for four years”?
Another email relayed a joke in which a Black woman receives $5,000 for having an abortion and, when she asks why, is told that the money came from the citizens group Crime Stoppers.
Lawsuit or settlement
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III, City Manager John Shaw, Police Chief Thomas Jackson and City Attorney Stephanie Karr met with federal officials on Tuesday to discuss the case, the city said in a statement.
The investigative report, made public on Wednesday, will form the basis for either a federal civil lawsuit or a negotiated settlement with the city.
The investigation found that the distrust of the Police Department, particularly by Blacks, was largely attributable to Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement.
A combination of ingrained racial bias and the city’s focus on generating revenue from traffic stops led to routine violations of the Constitution and federal laws, the report’s findings stated.
Adding to the volatile mix is the fact that while Ferguson’s population is 67 percent Black, its government and police force are predominantly White.
“This confirms what many people have been saying for a long time,” said Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman who was a prominent presence during the protests. “The Ferguson Police Department had a pattern and a culture that targeted minorities.”
The report comes with a ream of statistics that helps explain the anger:
• 85 percent of people subjected to traffic stops in Ferguson between 2012 and 2014 were Black.
• 90 percent of those who received a citation and 93 percent of those arrested were Black.
• Blacks were almost twice as likely as Whites to be searched during a traffic stop even though they were less likely to possess contraband.
• The same problems extended to Ferguson’s city jail and municipal court, where investigators found a pattern of focusing on revenue over public safety.
“They wonder why people reacted the way they did to Michael Brown’s death, and clearly this report shows it’s a natural reaction to how people have been treated over the years,” said Michael T. McPhearson, co-chairman of the Don’t Shoot Coalition in Ferguson.
McPhearson said some of the racist emails highlighted the way police had dehumanized Black citizens, whether suspects or not.
“That shows the mentality and how they look at Black people. When you’re looking at a whole community, you’re not looking [only] for criminals. You believe the whole community are criminals.
Every person is not even worthy of being treated fairly,” McPhearson said. With that approach, “there’s no way you’re going to be able to police a community fairly.”
The investigation also found that Blacks were less likely to have their cases dismissed in court than were Whites and were far more likely to be the subjects of arrest warrants. During the two years studied, 96 percent of people arrested during traffic stops because of outstanding warrants were Black.
For a five-month period last year, 95 percent of people held at the jail more than two days were Black, and often the charges against Blacks were petty offenses such as “manner of walking in roadway.”
The report marks the latest in a series of investigations the Justice Department has conducted recently into high-profile, racially charged confrontations.
Last month, officials announced that no federal criminal charges would be filed against a former Florida neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black 17-year-old, in Sanford in 2012.
Still to come are the results of a criminal investigation into an incident last year in New York’s Staten Island in which police killed a Black man, Eric Garner, with an apparent chokehold.
Civil rights experts say that, much as in the Ferguson case, bringing charges against the police in the Garner killing may be difficult because of the high standard of proof required. But the availability of a video and the extended nature of the struggle may make a prosecution easier than in the other two cases, they said.
Richard A. Serrano and Timothy M. Phelps of the Tribune Washington Bureau in Boston; Molly Hennessy-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times in Houston; and Michael Muskal, Matt Pearce and James Queally of the Los Angeles Times in Los Angeles all contributed to this report.