CRITICAL NOTES ON U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE’S
By Frank Chapman, Field Organizer, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
The DOJ interviewed city officials in every department and branch of Ferguson’s government from Finance Director to the Mayor and half of the FPD’s sworn officers. DOJ reviewed 35,000 pages of police records, thousands of emails and other electronic materials of the FPD. Experts were employed to analyze data on stops, searches, citations and arrests. Ferguson municipal court practices were examined along with dozens of people charged with local offenses. DOJ investigations involved conducting hundreds of in-person and telephone interviews of residents as well as several community groups and advocacy organizations. Throughout the investigation the DOJ, according to the report, “relied on two police chiefs,” who accompanied them and “who themselves interviewed City and police officials, spoke with community members, reviewed FPD policies and incident reports.”
Based on the Report Summary of the investigation we can safely conclude that the DOJ was thorough in their investigation based on the sources provided by Ferguson officials and community members. Now let us highlight some of the findings, conclusions and policy proposals.
Revenue Not Public Safety Needs Is Ferguson’s Focus
The DOJ investigation reveals that Ferguson’s focus is on generating revenue through municipal fines and fees. It is this particular focus that, in the words of the DOJ, compromises “…the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing and has also shaped it’s municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the community….” In other words the police and the courts are exhorted by the City to generate revenue through law enforcement. The data clearly establishes that ticketing and overall enforcement of the municipal code is driven by racial bias. This practice is a constant source of revenue for the City and has increased tension and sown deep mistrust between the African American community and the FPD.
There is tension, according to the DOJ, because law enforcement in Ferguson is more concerned with revenue generation than with public safety. In other words the FPD, as a matter of policy, sees the African American community not as “constituents to be protected but as potential offenders and sources of revenue.”
Corruption as a Source of Unlawful Policing
This corruption of law enforcement in Ferguson goes beyond ticketing and is, in fact, the basis of a police culture that habitually overrides and violates the constitutional and human rights of African Americans. The DOJ is unwittingly exposing the looting of the Black community under the guise of ticketing and enforcing municipal codes. In forcing compliance even when there is no legal authority to do so police officers interpret free speech as unlawful disobedience, innocent movements as physical threats, and mental and physical illness as belligerence. Once constitutional rights are suspended in this manner human rights violations are imminent. Police repression, though illegal and unconstitutional, is a matter of unwritten policy.
Unconstitutional Municipal Court Practices
The municipal court in Ferguson is not a neutral arbiter but a leveler of fines and penalties compelling their payment for the City’s coffers. Again, these are blatant violations of the U.S. Constitution, and the evidence offered up in this report is overwhelming. In 2013 the court issued 9,000 warrants on cases arising out of minor violations of traffic and housing codes. An African American woman was interviewed who has a still-pending case from 2007 “when on a single occasion she parked her car illegally.” She has paid $550 and still owes $541. The penalties are harsh, fines excessive, and the victim is the African American community.
Extortion as an Instrument of Racist Repression
Let us just quote here from page 4 of the report:
Ferguson law enforcement practices overwhelmingly impact African Americans. Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson’s population…from 2011 to 2013 African Americans accounted for 95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges and 94% of all Failure to Comply charges….
Ferguson law enforcement practices bear the stench of Jim Crow. Reviews of emails between police officers, the court and supervisors reveals recalcitrant racist attitudes where Black people are demonized as criminals and even the President and the First Lady are made the object of racist, derogatory remarks.
The DOJ would have us believe that law enforcement practices in Ferguson are shaped by the City’s focus on generating revenue. Given the long standing roots of institutionalized racism in Ferguson and the Nation we would argue that it is racism that drives and shapes law enforcement in Ferguson. Corruption with respect to traffic violations stretches from coast to coast, border to border. It can hardly be singled out as a primary cause of racist police repression.
Proposals Toward Ending Police Crimes In Ferguson
The DOJ report acknowledges that Ferguson’s law enforcement practices need to be fundamentally redirected. From this assessment come a number of far- reaching policy proposals that are supposedly designed to bring about lawful and effective policing that will restore community trust. The DOJ says that “…meaningful, sustainable, and verifiable reform will require that these and other measures be part of a court-enforceable remedial process that includes involvement from community stakeholders as well as independent oversight. In the coming weeks, we will seek to work with the City of Ferguson toward developing and reaching agreement on an appropriate framework of reform.” (p. 90 of Report).
Let us say from the outset that the DOJ is proposing that reforms take place in the absence of justice and that we reach agreement with the perpetrators of injustice on an appropriate framework of reform. Police who have committed crimes are not brought to justice. Not only is Darren Wilson exempted from prosecution, but every criminal scoundrel in the FPD is exempted through this proposed program of shifting from policing to raise revenue to policing in partnership with the entire Ferguson community. Within this context let us look at the specifics as they are spelled out by the DOJ. The DOJ says the FPD should:
- Develop and put into action a policy and detailed plan for comprehensive implementation of community policing and problem-solving principles and conduct outreach and involve the entire community in developing and implementing this plan.
- Increase opportunities for officers to have frequent, positive interactions with people outside of an enforcement context, especially groups that have expressed high levels of distrust of police. Such opportunities may include police athletic leagues and similar informal activities.
- Develop community partnership to identify crime prevention priorities, with a focus on disconnected areas, such as Ferguson’s apartment complexes, and disconnected groups, such as much of Ferguson’s African American youth.
- Modify officer deployment patterns and scheduling (such as moving away from the current 12-hour shift and assigning officers to patrol the same geographic areas consistently) to facilitate participating in crime prevention projects and familiarity with areas and people.
- Train officers on crime-prevention, officer safety and anti-discrimination advantages of community policing and train officers on mechanics of community policing and their role in its implementation.
- Measure and evaluate individual, supervisory, and agency police performance on community engagement, problem-oriented-policing projects, and crime prevention, rather than on arrest and citation productivity.
So community policing, according to the DOJ, is the solution to police tyranny and militarization. But what is “community policing”? It is portrayed as a crime-prevention partnership between the community and the police. Community policing does not empower the people to hold the police accountable for the crimes they commit.
The DOJ Refuses to Hold Police Accountable for Their Crimes
This report provides, in detail, social and statistical data that shows Ferguson’s Black community existing under a state of siege. It is costing them their lives and denying them their democratic right to be free of racist-driven police repression.
The report shows a community being looted by police officials and the municipal court under the guise of traffic tickets and municipal fees. But, after having done this, the DOJ evades the exercise of the authority it has to stop these unconstitutional violations of civil and human rights in Ferguson. It is not using its authority and constitutional obligation to intervene. It exempted Darren Wilson from prosecution based on the same evidence and factual allegations presented by Ferguson authorities and the St. Louis County Prosecutor. This is serious. There is no dispute that Michael Brown was unarmed or that he was shot multiple times and that there was conflicting eye witness testimony, or that he laid in a pool of his own blood for several hours—yet the DOJ found no probable cause or reason to take this matter to the Federal Grand Jury. The DOJ presents compelling evidence showing that Ferguson’s police are quick to use force, yet they make no claim that excessive force was used in Michael Brown’s case.
Here in Chicago we have brought to the attention of the DOJ sixty-five cases of police crimes involving murder and torture. Flint Farmer’s murder was recorded on a police video camera over three years ago, and the FBI is still investigating. There is also plenty of distrust in our communities regarding the conduct of the DOJ when it comes to police killing Black people.
How does it come to pass that the police have this tyrannical authority to trample on our liberties and deny us the right to life?
We have seen this before. We saw it in the South doing the Jim Crow era when Black people repeatedly appealed to the Federal Government to intervene to stop the lynching, to stop the state and local police from forcing us to live under a virtual police state, a police state where we lived under the most horrid economic and social conditions while being denied the right to protest and organize to change those conditions.
We are now in a similar historical bind. No level of government has the will to deal with our plight. So we must organize in our communities an uprising against these conditions, organizing that turns victims into freedom fighters.
The “Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department” is 105 pages long, and it is no more revealing than someone saying a zebra has stripes. There is nothing in it that surprises us for we have been telling the DOJ for years that the practices of law enforcement are driven by racism. Ferguson is not unique. Ferguson is what is going on all over this country, and we are saying to the government, in the words of Eric Garner, THIS ENDS TODAY!
In Chicago we are Ferguson magnified many times. From 2007-2014 CPD officers have shot 386 people, and 120 of them were murdered. 75% of these victims were African American, and 14% were Latino. The first thing we did right was when we started to fight in 2012 for an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). We are fighting for community control of the police, for real power to hold police accountable for their crimes.
We, the people, need to put an end to police crimes, and that process starts in earnest when we get the Chicago City Council to Pass the Ordinance that will create an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC)!
DARE TO STRUGGLE, DARE TO WIN!