On August 9, 2014, Officer Darren Wilson, a white officer from the Ferguson Police Department, fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American, after a brief altercation.
The shooting sparked weeks of unrest and protest in Ferguson, a city in which 95% of the police force is white while two-thirds of the population is black. The shooting also ignited a national debate about the strained relationship between law enforcement and people of color.
Many people pointed out that distrust between police and African-Americans in Ferguson (and elsewhere) is a deep-seeded issue, stemming from the systematic targeting of poor predominately black communities by police.
The national reaction to Brown’s death prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into whether or not Ferguson PD regularly violated the civil rights of African Americans.
The results of that investigation were released earlier today, and they paint a damning picture of widespread racial bias within the Ferguson Police Department. Here are a few of the KEY FINDINGS:
Blacks in Ferguson make up 85% of people subject to vehicle stops and 93% of those arrested, despite making up just 67% of the population;
Blacks are twice as likely to be searched by Ferguson PD than whites, despite the fact that they are actually less likely to be carrying drugs or a weapon;
Over the past year, 88% of the incidents in which Ferguson officers used force involved black residents (all 14 instances of police dog bites involved blacks as well);
Blacks in Ferguson were 68% less likely to have minor charges like fines and traffic violations dismissed by Ferguson’s municipal judges. Blacks were also disproportionately likely to be issued arrest warrants;
Between October 2012 and October 2014, blacks made up a whopping 96% of people arrested in traffic stops solely for an outstanding warrant
The probe also highlighted seven internal emails sent by Ferguson PD containing racist remarks about President Barack Obama and other African-Americans.
One such email compared the president to a chimpanzee, while another said he wouldn’t be president for long because, “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” Yet another email joked about a black woman from New Orleans receiving a $5,000 check from “Crimestoppers” after having an abortion.
Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced the findings of the probe, called for “immediate, wholesale” action to address the problems of racial discrimination in Ferguson, adding that these problems are also “national in scope”.
Holder described Ferguson as a community in which the police and the legal system disproportionately targeted African-Americans in order to generate revenue.
“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,”
Holder said, adding,
“In a sense, members of the community may not have been responding only to a single isolated confrontation, but also to a pervasive, corrosive, and deeply unfortunate lack of trust.”
A separate DOJ investigation concluded that officer Darren Wilson did not violate the civil rights of Michael Brown on that fateful day back in September.
“Michael Brown’s death, though a tragedy, did not involve prosecutable conduct on the part of Officer Wilson,”
Holder said in a statement.