Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014.
The inability of the jury system to indict the officer prompted protest and anger. The National guard were called to instill “law and order,” and the chants of Hand’s Up, Don’t Shoot filled the streets.
In 2015, The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division published their report after investigating the Ferguson Police Department.
Aptly Titled “The Ferguson Report,” this 162-page document summarizes the obvious biases and institutionalized racism inherent within the Ferguson Police Department (FPD).
Major points from the report:
- African Americans experience disparate impact in nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system. Despite making up 67% of the population, African Americans accounted for 85% of FPD’s arrests from 2012 to 2014.
- African Americans are 2.07 times more likely to be searched during a vehicular stop but are 26% less likely to have contraband found on them during a search.
- African Americans have force used against them at disproportionately high rates, accounting for 88% of all cases from 2010 to August 2014 in which an FPD officer reported using force. In all 14 uses of force involving a canine bite for which we have information about the race of the person bitten, the person was African American.
- African Americans account for 95% of Manner of Walking charges; 94% of all Fail to Comply charges; 92% of all Resisting Arrest charges; 92% of all Peace Disturbance charges; and 89% of all Failure to Obey charges
The DOJ also had access to emails sent by Ferguson officials:
- A March 2010 email mocked African Americans through speech and familial stereotypes, using a story involving child support. One line from the email read: “I be so glad that dis be my last child support payment! Month after month, year after year, all dose payments!”
- An April 2011 email depicted President Barack Obama as a chimpanzee.
- An October 2011 email included a photo of bare-chested group of dancing women, apparently in Africa, with the caption, “Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.”
The report includes many incidences of intimidation and racism against black residents of Ferguson by the police and officials. The following is just one example:
We spoke with one African-American man who, in August 2014, had an argument in his apartment to which FPD officers responded, and was immediately pulled out of the apartment by force. After telling the officer, “you don’t have a reason to lock me up,” he claims the officer responded: “Nigger, I can find something to lock you up on.” When the man responded, “good luck with that,” the officer slammed his face into the wall, and after the man fell to the floor, the officer said, “don’t pass out motherfucker because I’m not carrying you to my car.”
I have not yet finished reading the report (it is part of my doctoral work), but it’s obvious that racism and prejudice is rife within FPD.
Another aspect of Ferguson, which is crucial to remember, is that the majority of residents are African American.
Ferguson is a town of 21,000. In 1990, 74% was white. By 2000, black Americans grew to 52%. In 2010, 67% of Ferguson was black American (facts found in report). This is important because while demographics shifted, the power dynamics did not. The city council remained predominantly white with a Republican white mayor, and the FPD was overwhelmingly white as well. This is not to say that police forces that are diverse suddenly become more caring. The NYPD is probably the most diverse force in the country but no one could say with a straight face that the changes in how officers looked has immediately led them to change their tactics and level of engagement with communities of color.
Still, since we live in an apparent democracy, you would assume that as a community becomes more black and brown, that their needs, views, and conscience would be reflected in the power structure. This is key since pundits are forecasting a so-called majority-minority future in the U.S. If say, POC do become the majority of residents, then it would be common sense to assume that this would translate into political power as well. But, Ferguson, and places like it, prove this not to be the case.
As whites moved into surrounding suburbs, black residents were further marginalized. Ferguson proves that so long as the institutions remain racialized and bigoted, so long as white supremacy is upheld through law and practice, then communities of color, especially black Americans, no matter their class or social standing, will continue to experience discrimination and oppression.
There are places of hope though.
In the last election for council, activists were able to organize and inspire people to vote. The turnout wasn’t as high as many would hope, but definitely the actions and hard work of BLM activists and others in the community, helped to include more black Americans onto the city council.
Also, the DOJ itself laid out helpful ideas on what to do, which should be applied nationwide:
- Implement a robust system of true community policing
- Focus stop, search, ticketing and arrest practices on community protection
- Change force use, reporting, review, and response to encourage de-escalation and the use of the minimal force necessary in a situation
- Implement policies and training to improve interactions with vulnerable people
Those were just a few suggestions provided, and of course, in the report, they go in-depth on each one. I encourage you to get your own copy online by clicking here, and learn more.