Today’s determination by the Department of Justice that the Ferguson Police Department has engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination vindicates the on-going advocacy efforts by protesters, civil rights activists and residents of Ferguson for fundamental top-to-bottom change in the city’s law enforcement practices. The killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson, and the Ferguson Police response to the killing and to civilian protests, revealed a department rife with racism, disrespect for the community it serves and lacking in professional integrity. Just two weeks ago, the Ferguson Police Chief, Thomas Jackson, reiterated his belief that there is “no racial problem in the Ferguson Police Department.” The detailed and devastating findings by the Department of Justice flatly contradict that statement.
In a city where Black citizens accounted for 67 percent of the population, they comprised 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of all citations issued, and 93 percent of arrests from 2012 to 2014. Racist emails from Ferguson officials and police officers provided further evidence of the undercurrent of racism endemic to policing in the city. Chief Jackson’s failure to address or even acknowledge racism within the ranks of his small coterie of officers is yet another reason why today we call for his resignation or removal from office, along with the officers in his command structure.
The discriminatory acts by the municipal court, also documented in the Justice Department report, reveal the presence of racial bias within the local justice system as well. Rather than redressing the widespread police bias, the local courts only compounded its damaging impact on the African-American community through extreme fines and penalties, generating significant revenues for the City of Ferguson.
The next stage of this matter will be for the City of Ferguson either to enter into negotiations with the Department of Justice for fundamental changes or to challenge the Department’s action in court. We believe it would be folly, given the evidence presented, for Ferguson to take the latter course. Instead, like the cities of Seattle, Cincinnati and most recently Cleveland, Ferguson should enter into discussions with the DOJ aimed at a comprehensive solution to the problems of this Department which has so harmed the constituents of that city. Among the changes under consideration, we strongly encourage Ferguson officials to consider disbanding the Ferguson Police Department and entering a regional law enforcement structure that includes bias training, clear protocols around the treatment of and engagement with the community, strong accountability within the structures of the department for officers who fail to follow protocols, and transparency so that citizens can monitor practices, procedures and officer conduct.
More immediately, the Ferguson Mayor and City Council and the town’s manager should call for the immediate resignation of the Police Chief and top commanders, so that negotiations and a new structure can be undertaken with new personnel, untainted by the findings in this powerful and scathing report.
Despite the findings of discriminatory policing in Ferguson, the Justice Department cleared Darren Wilson of federal civil rights violations for killing Michael Brown. That decision lends credence to Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent criticism that the standards applied in federal civil rights laws need to be revised to effectively hold law enforcement accountable and curb police violence.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in media attributions as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.