The report from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division on the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department is a damning indictment of an out-of-control, lawless, and racist police department gone rogue. Given the context and history of policing in Ferguson provided in the DOJ investigation, it seemed inevitable that an unarmed African-American teenager would be shot dead by a white Ferguson police officer following a confrontation over a “Manner of Walking in Roadway” offense (or theft of cigarillos if that is to be believed). One is tempted to question how it didn’t happen sooner than August 9, 2014.
The Ferguson Police Department (FPD) arrested 460 individuals for outstanding warrants between October 2012 and October 2014: 96% of those arrested were African American. According to the DOJ report, from 2011-2013, African Americans accounted for 95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges, 94% of Failure to Comply charges, 92% of Resisting Arrest charges, 92% of Peace Disturbance charges, and 89% of Failure to Obey charges. “Despite making up 67% of the population, African Americans accounted for 85% of FPD’s traffic stops, 90% of FPD’s citations, and 93% of FPD’s arrests from 2012 to 2014.” The race-based enforcement tactics and strategies employed by the FPD have a disparate impact on African Americans that is violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The DOJ report also found that the FPD has engaged in a “pattern and practice of constitutional violations (that primarily target African Americans) in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force.” The FPD’s policies and practices were found to routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in racially profiling African Americans and disproportionally singling them out for “pedestrian checks,” ”Failure to Comply,” and illegal “Stop and Identify” offenses. DOJ found that the FPD consistently uses excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that African Americans accounted for almost 90% of the use of force incidents from 2010-2014. FPD used force involving a canine bite 14 times during this time period and in all incidents the person bitten was African American.
The FPD also engages in a standard (and unlawful) practice of arresting individuals for engaging in activities that are protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution: “people are punished for talking back to officers, recording public police activities, and lawfully protesting perceived injustices.”
The DOJ report found that the FPD regulates the activities and behavior of Ferguson’s African-American residents, workers, students, and visitors through enforcement strategies designed to raise revenue rather than to protect the public, and that it does so in collusion with the municipal court and the city government. These practices are wholly inimical to commonly accepted and widely supported community policing principles that are endorsed by virtually all of the almost 18,000 legitimate police agencies protecting and serving our communities in the United States. These procedures, combined with race-based and pervasive violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, serve to de-legitimate the Ferguson Police Department. The FPD clearly and consistently operates beyond the margins of commonly accepted 21st-century police practices and it is a department that has gone rogue. The recommendations contained in the DOJ report presume that the FPD is a department that can be rehabilitated and reborn into one that respects the law and the Constitution and that will ensure the safety of the members of the community through respectful and just treatment.
I do not share that optimism. That the FPD needs a leadership change is without question, and Chief Tom Jackson has resigned before he would have inevitably been fired. Ferguson’s crooked and corrupt municipal judge as well as its city manager have also resigned. Indictments may follow in the wake of the insidious and odious municipal “collection agency” being run out of Ferguson’s police department and its municipal court. So what is to be done going forward? Nothing short of this: The Ferguson Police Department itself should be disbanded and dissolved. Ta-Nehisi Coates has called the FPD “the gangsters of Ferguson” and, like any organized criminal gang, they should be dismantled and dispersed. The handful of decent, law-abiding, and respectful police officers on the FPD (and I’m certain there are some), could reapply for their jobs in a newly established and reconstituted law enforcement agency, one that will serve the people of Ferguson with fairness, courtesy, and dignity. The rest of the knaves can join Darren Wilson (and now Tom Jackson, John Shaw, and Ronald Brockmeyer) on the unemployment line.