Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this


Federal  civil rights investigation finds blatant, systemic racism in Ferguson Police Dept., but criminal probe finds no grounds to prosecute officer who killed Michael Brown

By Miriam Raftery

March 4, 2015 (Washington D.C.) – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday announced results of two federal probes into the Ferguson, Missouri police department which drew national attention following the shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager. A criminal investigation found no grounds to prosecute Officer Darren Wilson, who killed the teen, Michael Brown. However a separate civil rights investigation found systemic racism in the department and mandates changes.

The Justice Department has ordered corrective action. Holder emphasized in a press statement, “Let me be clear: the United States Department of Justice reserves all its rights and abilities to force compliance and implement basic change.”

Holder called findings of the civil rights report “searing”, adding, “this investigation found a community that was deeply polarized; a community where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents.”

The investigation found that “local authorities consistently approached law enforcement not as a means for protecting public safety, but as a way to generate revenue” and further, that “both policing and municipal court practices were found to disproportionately harm African American residents.”  The emphasis on revenue generation through policing has fostered “unconstitutional practices” at nearly every level of Ferguson’s law enforcement system, he added.

Moreover, Holder said, “this harm frequently appears to stem, at least in part, from racial bias – both implicit and explicit.  And a community where all of these conditions, unlawful practices, and constitutional violations have not only severely undermined the public trust, eroded police legitimacy, and made local residents less safe – but created an intensely charged atmosphere where people feel under assault and under siege by those charged to serve and protect them.” 

Police commonly charged people with multiple violations for the same conduct, with officers competing to see who could issue the most citations during a single stop.  Fines and fees from these stops amount to the second largest revenue source for the county, after sales tax.

The Justice Department found that 90% of use of force incidents by Ferguson Police were against African American people.  From October 2012 to October 2014, African-Americans were twice as likely as white residents to be searched during a routine traffic stop, even though they were 26 percent less likely to be carrying contraband.  Though 67 percent of the population is African-Americans, 94% of the police force is white. African-Americans accounted for over 85% of all traffic stops, 85% of all charges filed, and over 90% of those charged with a discretionary offense described as “manner of walking along roadway.” During the same period, 35 African-Americans received five or more citations simultaneously, while zero whites had this occur. 

Police dogs were deployed only against African-American suspects—even non-violent offenders and minors.  Tasers were also used on nonviolent offenders.

Ferguson police routinely violated the Fourth Amendment, stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probably cause, and using unreasonable force, the investigation concluded. The department’s own records showed officers often infringed on residents’ First Amendment Rights, according to Holder, including the right to record police activities.  A boy who videotaped his mother’s traffic stop was arrested for no legitimate reason, for example.  Another man who recorded his traffic stop was arrested by an officer who told a jail official that the man was arrested because he “watches CNBC too much about his rights.”

E-mails revealed numerous blatantly racist comments. After President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, one e-mail depicted the president as a chimpanzee and another stated he would not last long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” Others stereotyped racial minorities as shiftless welfare recipients, according to an article on Salon which documents some of the most “horrifying revelations” of the investigation.

A man sitting in his car after playing basketball at a park was approached by an officer who accused the man of being a pedophile. He was forced to undergo a pat-down search without probable cause and when the man cited his constitutional rights, the officer drew his gun, pointed it at the man’s head and arrested him on eight counts, causing the man to lose his job, Holder reported.

“Unfortunately, this event appears to have been anything but an isolated incident,” he said, adding that such incidents have led to a deep and deserved mistrust of police by the community in Ferguson.

Those policing practices harm African American residents and moreover, Holder concluded, “our review of the evidence found no alternative explanation for the disproportionate impact on African American residents other than implicit and explicit racial bias.” 

The  Justice Department issued immediate and specific recommendations for the Ferguson Police Department and the Municipal Court.  These include implementation of a robust system of true community policing; increased tracking, review and analysis of Ferguson Police Department stop, search, ticketing and arrest practices; increased civilian involvement in police decision-making; and the development of mechanisms to effectively respond to allegations of officer misconduct.  They also involve changes to the municipal court system including modifications to bond amounts and detention procedures; an end to the use of arrest warrants as a means of collecting owed fines and fees; and compliance with due process requirements.  In addition

Holder noted, “Ensuring 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 order to remedy the conduct we have identified, to address the underlying culture we have uncovered, and to restore and rebuild the trust that has been so badly eroded.”

The Attorney General added that as the brother of a retired police officer, “I know that the overwhelming majority of America’s brave men and women in law enforcement do their jobs honorably, with integrity, and often at great personal risk” He concluded, “It is in great part for their sake – and for their safety – that we must seek to rebuild trust and foster mutual understanding in Ferguson and in all communities where suspicion has been allowed to fester.  Negative practices by individual law enforcement officers and individual departments present a significant danger not only to their communities, but also to committed and hard-working public safety officials around the country who perform incredibly challenging jobs with unwavering professionalism and uncommon valor. 

The Obama administration in recent months has also announced administrative proposals to help heal mistrust, from a National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, to a historic new Task Force on 21st Century Policing – which will provide “strong, federal support to law enforcement at every level, on a scale not seen since the Johnson Administration,” said Holder, who has traveled to major cities convening roundtable discussions aimed at “building trust and engagement between law enforcement, civil rights, youth and community leaders from coast to coast.”


Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at https://www.eastcountymedia.org/donate to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.


TimeWarp in Missouri

Thanks, Michal, for this review of the Dred Scott Decision, heartrending even today. It is encouraging to know, however, that such a travesty of justice is considered today as, arguably, the most infamous case in our Supreme Court's history. Dennis and Jacqueline, regarding the Ferguson shooting: How horrible that it took such a tragedy to prompt the DOJ to investigate the entire Ferguson policing system which, it seems, had itself been engaging in unlawful practices that targeted its African American population. The deaths of the young are always a tragedy, but if what happened in Ferguson results in a fair and just system for all its citizens, the tragic loss of young Michael Brown will not have been in vain. KB Schaller, Author Gray Rainbow Journey Winner, National Best Books Award, Multicultural Fiction http://KBSchaller.com


Agreed above. A lawsuit must be filed. It is quite simple that this is necessary. When I reviewed the history of Ferguson and Missouri I was disgusted does not say it, I was horrified. It simply reminded me of the buying and selling of human beings in a way that I was and am so saddened by the human condition that i think everyone who cares at all about the rights of women and children all check into this. God help us. MJ Payne Author The Remembered Self: A Journey into th Heart of the Beaast www.buytherememberedself.com

21st Century America - Unbelievable!!

I am happy that the report was brought to light, but disappointed in the policies and practices that have continued in Missouri for so many years. At times you wonder if as humans whether this type of injustice did not bother anyone in law enforcement in Missouri, and if "yes" was it fear that prevented them from righting the wrongs? Thankfully, now that this country as well as countries around the world have seen this report that effective change will now begin to take place. Jacqueline Carr Author - A Selected Few Just For You

Grand Juror Doe v. Robert P. McCulloch No. 4:15-cv-00006-RWS

This case is about Doe's First Amendment rights. Doe has articulated a cognizable First Amendment claim. As a general rule, "where a person 'lawfully obtains truthful information about a matter of public significance,' [the Supreme Court] ha[s] held that 'state officials may not constitutionally punish publication of the information, absent a need to further a state interest of the highest order.'" For example, one question of significant public importance is whether the grand jury investigating Wilson did not return an indictment because McCulloch's office misled the grand jury about the law. See Caleb Mason, "Was the Ferguson Grand Jury Misled?" This is the position and statement of Anthony E. Rothert of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation, representing Grand Juror Doe against Robert P. McCulloch, in his official capacity as Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County, Missouri.

Timewarp in Missouri

I think a little bit of history needs to be recounted to lay a foundation for the current attempt to bring Ferguson, Missouri into the modern world. I will give sources at a later date. Let's take a look at some of the history of Dred Scott, a black man who received his freedom nine month prior to his death. "Dred Scott first went to trial to sue for his freedom in 1847. Ten years later, after a decade of appeals and court reversals, his case was finally brought before the United States Supreme Court. In what is perhaps the most infamous case in its history, the court decided that all people of African ancestry -- slaves as well as those who were free -- could never become citizens of the United States and therefore could not sue in federal court. The court also ruled that the federal government did not have the power to prohibit slavery in its territories. Scott, needless to say, remained a slave. Born around 1800, Scott migrated westward with his master, Peter Blow. They travelled from Scott's home state of Virginia to Alabama and then, in 1830, to St. Louis, Missouri. Two years later Peter Blow died; Scott was subsequently bought by army surgeon Dr. John Emerson, who later took Scott to the free state of Illinois. In the spring of 1836, after a stay of two and a half years, Emerson moved to a fort in the Wisconsin Territory, taking Scott along. While there, Scott met and married Harriet Robinson, a slave owned by a local justice of the peace. Ownership of Harriet was transferred to Emerson. Scott's extended stay in Illinois, a free state, gave him the legal standing to make a claim for freedom, as did his extended stay in Wisconsin, where slavery was also prohibited. But Scott never made the claim while living in the free lands -- perhaps because he was unaware of his rights at the time, or perhaps because he was content with his master. After two years, the army transferred Emerson to the south: first to St Louis, then to Louisiana. A little over a year later, a recently-married Emerson summoned his slave couple. Instead of staying in the free territory of Wisconsin, or going to the free state of Illinois, the two travelled over a thousand miles, apparently unaccompanied, down the Mississippi River to meet their master. Only after Emerson's death in 1843, after Emerson's widow hired Scott out to an army captain, did Scott seek freedom for himself and his wife. First he offered to buy his freedom from Mrs. Emerson -- then living in St. Louis -- for $300. The offer was refused. Scott then sought freedom through the courts. Scott went to trial in June of 1847, but lost on a technicality -- he couldn't prove that he and Harriet were owned by Emerson's widow. The following year the Missouri Supreme Court decided that case should be retried. In an 1850 retrial, the the St Louis circuit court ruled that Scott and his family were free. Two years later the Missouri Supreme Court stepped in again, reversing the decision of the lower court. Scott and his lawyers then brought his case to a federal court, the United States Circuit Court in Missouri. In 1854, the Circuit Court upheld the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court. There was now only one other place to go. Scott appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. Scott went to trial in June of 1847, but lost on a technicality -- he couldn't prove that he and Harriet were owned by Emerson's widow. The following year the Missouri Supreme Court decided that case should be retried. In an 1850 retrial, the the St Louis circuit court ruled that Scott and his family were free. Two years later the Missouri Supreme Court stepped in again, reversing the decision of the lower court. Scott and his lawyers then brought his case to a federal court, the United States Circuit Court in Missouri. In 1854, the Circuit Court upheld the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court. There was now only one other place to go. Scott appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. The nine justices of the Supreme Court of 1856 certainly had biases regarding slavery. Seven had been appointed by pro-slavery presidents from the South, and of these, five were from slave-holding families. Still, if the case had gone directly from the state supreme court to the federal supreme court, the federal court probably would have upheld the state's ruling, citing a previously established decision that gave states the authority to determine the status of its inhabitants. But, in his attempt to bring his case to the federal courts, Scott had claimed that he and the case's defendant (Mrs. Emerson's brother, John Sanford, who lived in New York) were citizens from different states. The main issues for the Supreme Court, therefore, were whether it had jurisdiction to try the case and whether Scott was indeed a citizen. The decision of the court was read in March of 1857. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney -- a staunch supporter of slavery -- wrote the "majority opinion" for the court. It stated that because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue. The decision also declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820, legislation which restricted slavery in certain territories, unconstitutional. While the decision was well-received by slaveholders in the South, many northerners were outraged. The decision greatly influenced the nomination of Abraham Lincoln to the Republican Party and his subsequent election, which in turn led to the South's secession from the Union. Peter Blow's sons, childhood friends of Scott, had helped pay Scott's legal fees through the years. After the Supreme Court's decision, the former master's sons purchased Scott and his wife and set them free. Dred Scott died nine months later." I think this sets the stage for the history of what is happening currently in Missouri. It puts another face onto this long, bitter struggle. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2932.html MJ Payne Author The Remembered Self: A Journey into the Heart of the Beast www.buytherememberedself.com


Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at Brown Chapel AME Church Sunday, drew parallels, without being explicit, between the events of 1965 and today. He noted that the "Bloody Sunday" march was sparked by the murder of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson, "an unarmed, young black man." "An unarmed, young black man," he repeated.


Dear Ms. Raftery and Mr. Moore, My initial comment to all of this is based upon my experiences and knowledge as a former civil rights judge and law professor although it may sound mundane: it is a well known fact that a grand jury can indite a ham sandwich. The grand jury system itself is archaic and does not represent anyone but the prosecutor and its political agenda. The end result of the grand jury in Ferguson was completely skewed. It was a political and societal decision. The federal decision as to not prosecuting was the same as well. When race is involved the factfinders weigh their decision on societal after effects such as whether the community is subject to rioting etc. The federal fact finding was extremely important in advancing long overdue changes. The decision to not prosecute, however, goes against the grain of the advancement of continued legal rigor for accountability. The societal after effects of a jury decision is an irrelevant factor. It is a grievous (although understandable) human error but has no place in the law. When you reflect on the specific high profile race cases in Los Angeles in this past decade you can see a trend developing that is present but no one is willing to address - even the judges. A jury should be instructed that the social effect of their decision is not a factor to be given weight because when this is present the result is unjust per se. The law and the material facts are the only factors to be considered. If it is social policy and not a legal decision - a different outcome results. The trend itself needs to be analyzed in addition to the other issues. Respectfully submitted, Honorable Mary Elizabeth Bullock (Retired)

Thank you for those insights. It is troubling

to see so many cases where grand juries and prosecutors fail to hold officers accountable.Let's hope the Justice Department's efforts will have some positive impact in rooting out the policies and procedures that have allowed racists to hide behind a badge for far too long.

"No Rights Which the White Man was Bound to Respect"

This was the statement made by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision before the Supreme Court of the United States, ironically, involving the state of Missouri. It is universally denounced by scholars. Bernard Schwartz says it, "stands first in any list of the worst" Supreme Court decisions - Chief Justice C.E. Hughes called it the Court's greatest self-inflicted wound." Junius P. Rodriguez says it is "universally condemned as the U.S. Supreme Court's worst decision." David Konig et al. says it was "unquestionably, our court's worst decision ever." Chief Judge Taney essentially stated that a "black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect" in his decision, which begs the question in view of Attorney General Holder's delivering of an update on investigations in Ferguson, Missouri, have blacks actually gained that "respect." It is interesting to note that one of the jurors in the Grand Jury considerations involving the shooting death of Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson, felt the need to file a civil lawsuit after the fact against Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch, alleging that he steered them against indicting Wilson. That case (4:15-cv-00006-RWS) has similar constitutional inplications as the Dred Scott case.