After a month-long Department of Justice investigation on the way that the Ferguson Police Department, City Council and its court system act against the majority African-American residents and the working-class poor, the DOJ offered a settlement through a consent decree. A consent decree is a negotiated judicial and binding settlement. It’s an agreement that avoids further litigation in order to challenge investigatory findings, usually over discriminatory and disparate treatment of individuals, groups of individuals or organizational entities.
The DOJ investigation began when then Attorney General Eric Holder was forced to visit Ferguson, a poor and disenfranchised suburb of St. Louis. This followed mass uprisings protesting the police killing of an unarmed 18-year-old African American, Michael Brown. A grand jury let officer Darren Wilson off.
The Ferguson police met the protests with a horrendous display of military hardware, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, machine guns and tear gas, overwhelming force usually reserved for imperialist wars. It turned out the Pentagon had been selling such equipment for years to local police agencies, starting with the SWAT teams in Los Angeles, to suppress uprisings and rebellions the corporate media usually call “riots.”
Last year, Ferguson city attorneys signed the consent decree. Now, according to current Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Ferguson’s City Council recently rejected the same after 26 weeks of negotiations. Lynch announced that the DOJ “is filing a lawsuit in federal district court against the city of Ferguson, Mo., alleging a pattern and practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the 1st, the 4th and the 14th Amendments of the Constitution and federal civil rights laws.” (CNSNewis.com, Feb. 11).
One of the most egregious charges stated in the 131-page agreement against the police, besides outright police brutality, is the practice of what can only be described as a shakedown.
City officials and the city courts not only encouraged but mandated a corrupt system in order to “balance the budget” on the backs of the predominantly poor African-American residents by a system of fining them for minor infractions and then imposing harsh and unrealistic fines and penalties for “late payment.”
That part of the consent decree stated that the city of Ferguson “will … eliminate all pending charges, fines, and fees related to Failure to Appear violations without requiring a defendant to make a bond payment, appear in court, or take any other action.” (DOJ v. City of Ferguson, P. 10, Section IV., Part 37) Besides the fines, prison terms were also given to the “non-compliant offenders.” This was the main way that the city would generate revenue. (The Atlantic, Feb. 1)
Mayor James Knowles and the Council introduced six amendments to the consent decree that were an insult to the people of Ferguson. They were also a political maneuver that would increase the property and sales taxes on the residents of Ferguson, as well as remove the successor clause from the consent decree: “This amendment would effectively allow the city to circumvent compliance with the decree by dissolving the existing Ferguson Police Department and either replacing it with a new entity or contracting their services to another municipality. The City of Ferguson is attempting to evade any responsibility for the years of predatory racist policing.” (Kayla Reed, Organization of Black Struggle, Feb. 15).
Consent decrees no substitute for mass struggle
No investigation and/or consent decrees would ever have been initiated without street heat and mass mobilization and organizing by oppressed communities independent of ruling-class control.
In an article in Workers World, Fred Goldstein wrote: “The Ferguson investigation would never have taken place without the rebellion that began there and swept the country, resulting in the Black Lives Matter movement. Tens of thousands of youth, Black, Brown and white, mobilized for months, disrupted downtown shopping areas, invaded malls, blocked highways and roads, and generally caused havoc in major and minor cities from one end of the country to the other.” (Workers World, March 9, 2015).
This same tenacious and determined mass struggle took place after the police murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
As a first step in tandem with many other demands of the oppressed, there must be real community control of the police where the residents of those communities have the power to hire, fire, investigate and prosecute police injustice and racist atrocities.