On March 4, the U.S. Department of Justice issued two seemingly contradictory reports.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder officially announced that Darren Wilson, the police officer who had killed unarmed African-American youth Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo., would not be indicted on federal civil rights violations charges due to lack of probable cause. Wilson, who has since resigned from the Ferguson Police Department, claimed that he felt threatened by the 18-year-old before he drew his weapon and fired numerous shots into the young man’s body.
The same Department of Justice also issued a comprehensive report on the systematic discriminatory policies of the Ferguson police. These findings are by no means news to the people of Ferguson and St. Louis County.
Journalists, activists and other observers have noted the appalling and repressive character of the police in St. Louis County and the exploitative nature of the court system, which entangles African Americans with citations and jail time for failure to promptly pay arbitrary fines.
The DOJ report revealed: “The City budgets for sizeable increases in municipal fines and fees each year, exhorts police and court staff to deliver those revenue increases, and closely monitors whether those increases are achieved. City officials routinely urge Chief Jackson to generate more revenue through enforcement.”
In March 2010, a memorandum from the city finance director to Chief Jackson stressed that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. … Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.”
Also the DOJ documents that in March 2013, the Ferguson finance director wrote to the city manager noting: “Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5 percent. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10 percent increase. He indicated they could try.” The report continues: “The importance of focusing on revenue generation is communicated to FPD officers. Ferguson police officers from all ranks told us that revenue generation is stressed heavily within the police department.”
Police guided by racism
It is quite obvious that the city of Ferguson’s methodology of law enforcement reflects and fortifies racial profiling and discrimination. Consequently, those most severely impacted by these policies are African Americans, who are systematically targeted for punitive actions by the cops.
The DOJ report substantiates such assumptions by stating unequivocally: “Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows African Americans account for 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations, and 93 percent of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67 percent of Ferguson’s population. African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race-based variables such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but are found in possession of contraband 26 percent less often than white drivers, suggesting officers are impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to search.”
During the two years leading up to 2014, the FPD wrote four or more citations of African Americans on 73 occasions. Nonetheless, the statistics illustrate that cops issued four or more citations of non-African Americans on only two occasions. The Ferguson police obviously issue certain citations almost exclusively against African Americans. Between the years of 2011 and 2013, African Americans were cited for 95 percent of “manner of walking in roadway” charges, and 94 percent of all “failure to comply” charges.
Racists emails common
The report also revealed racist emails sent by Ferguson city personnel insulting and mocking African Americans, targeting people from the local area all the way up to the White House. These racist emails were widely circulated even outside city administration circles.
Emails circulated by Ferguson officials in law enforcement and the courts reflect the venomous racism within the municipal system. These electronic notes and “ethnic jokes” draw upon some of the worst stereotypes within U.S. society.
African Americans are accused of not taking care of their children, and of being lazy and criminally inclined. Even President Barack Obama was described as an animal by a Ferguson employee.
These emails continued to circulate and no one was ever held accountable by Ferguson officials. In the aftermath of the release of the DOJ report, a court clerk and two police officers have left their jobs. However, no one has been criminally prosecuted for these offenses.
Darren Wilson remains untouched
Despite the damning proof of blatant racism, police brutality, judicial misconduct and criminal conspiratorial actions, no one has been arrested or indicted for these violations of the law, which the DOJ says contravene the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Darren Wilson, who shot down Michael Brown, was not indicted by the local St. Louis County prosecutor and also escaped any criminal charges from the DOJ.
According to the DOJ, in its statement related to the decision not to indict former Ferguson Police Officer Wilson on federal civil rights violations charges: “The evidence does not establish that the shots fired by Wilson were objectively unreasonable under federal law. When Brown turned around and moved toward Wilson, the applicable law and evidence do not support finding that Wilson was unreasonable in his fear that Brown would once again attempt to harm him and gain control of his gun.”
Such a rationale for not indicting Wilson stems from the same stereotypical reasoning enunciated by this white police officer when he told ABC News in an exclusive interview that he felt mortally threatened by an unarmed African-American youth. These are the same excuses given for decades to justify the police killings of African Americans and other oppressed people in the U.S.
Brown’s family to file civil suit
On March 5, the family of Michael Brown announced they would pursue civil litigation against Darren Wilson for the wrongful death of their son. Since the family and the community in Ferguson have been denied redress within the local and federal court systems, they are seeking alternative means to hold Wilson liable for his actions that resulted in the death of Brown.
“There were other alternatives available to him. He did not have to kill Michael Brown,” said Daryl Parks, an attorney for the family of the slain teen.
Attorney Anthony Gray said the lawsuit is being worked on and will be filed in the not-too-distant future. “Wilson did not have to shoot and kill Mike Brown Jr. in broad daylight in the manner that he did,” Gray said. “The choice to use deadly force was unreasonable and unnecessary.” (Globe and Mail, March 5)
The findings of the DOJ report on Ferguson and St. Louis County are not exceptions in the U.S. Such practices involving law enforcement and the courts are commonplace in many municipalities throughout the country.
On March 6, Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old African American in Madison, Wis., was killed by police. The officer involved has not been arrested or indicted and the authorities say the incident is “under investigation.”
The pervasive racism in the U.S. was also revealed when an Oklahoma State University all-white fraternity was videotaped chanting slogans saying that African Americans will never join their organization and that they should be hung from trees. Although the group was suspended by their national office and the university has publicly distanced itself from the racist organization, these attitudes are not an anomaly.
It will take a much more broadly organized mass movement to overthrow racism and police brutality. The character of the U.S. capitalist and imperialist system is rooted in racial discrimination and economic exploitation, which must be eradicated for true equality and self-determination to be won by the nationally oppressed.