Stunning Ferguson report revelations: Why a complete overhaul is needed, now

Opinion, NakedLaw, Rights

The Ferguson protesters were right. In fact, the corruption was worse than some of them may have realized. The police, courts and city officials systematically, frequently, blatantly violated the constitutional rights of residents, in a system infected to its core with hardcore, KKK-style racism, according to a scathing new Department of Justice report.

The report concludes: Stop blaming the community. Stop blaming the peaceful protestors (and remember, 99 percent were peaceful). Stop blaming “outside agitators.” The problem, squarely, is caused by the authorities themselves. It’s sickening to read these findings about a 21st century American city, but it would be even more shameful for us to look away.

Ferguson residents endure disrespect, injustice for years

Of course, much the community already knew that they were living in a police state-esque town, riddled with disrespect for its residents. This is why the shooting of Mike Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014 ignited protests. Tensions had been simmering over demeaning, painful injustices inflicted on residents by its police and courts for a very long time. African American residents not only had to endure the constant affronts, but also officials’ blithe denials of reality.

Shortly after Brown’s shooting, for example, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said:

“For people to come out and say there’s some longstanding anger or there’s a history of racial tension is absolutely ridiculous. There’s not a black-white divide in Ferguson.”

Either Mr. Knowles was straight-up lying or he was stunningly unaware of what was going on under his nose. Either way, he is thus unfit to hold office. Because in just a few months, the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation found widespread racism in facts like:

  • Every single documented police dog bite case was perpetrated on a black person
  • Nearly all arrests were of blacks, who make up only 67 percent of the population
  • Ticketing and general harassment was overwhelmingly perpetrated on African American residents

Ferguson officials: Racist jokes behind closed doors, outright persecution in public

The state-sponsored bullying by the majority white police force and court officers is on the level of psychological warfare. This is clear in the case of the woman whose life became a living hell over a single parking ticket she could not afford to pay. She was hit with a barrage of fees, hassles and bureaucratic red tape. She became homeless. She attempted to make partial payments, which the city rejected – adding on fines and penalties instead. She was arrested twice and spent six days in jail, all over that single parking ticket.

While black women like her were tormented by the system, authorities yukked it up over racist emails about them, on their government accounts, like the one about the black woman who had an abortion and then got a check from Crime Stoppers (get it?! All black babies turn into criminals!). Or another showing a photo of bare-chested African women with the caption, “Michelle Obama’s high school reunion” (haha! They’re all foreign, other, sexualized, worthy objects of ridicule!).

To persecute struggling citizens while simultaneously laughing at them from a powerful perch is sociopathic, sadistic. No one was fired.

Then there’s the case of the 32-year-old African American man cooling off in his car after playing basketball in a Ferguson public park. For his crime of Parking While Black, a police officer pulled up behind him, blocking him in, demanding his social security number and identification. (Do not forget that Darren Wilson was accused of instigating what became a fatal shooting by screeching his car to a halt behind Mike Brown and Dorian Johnson in a strikingly similar manner, cursing at them for jaywalking.) Without any cause, the officer accused the man of being a pedophile, ordering him out of his car. When the man objected to the officer’s request to search his car without any probable cause whatsoever, citing his constitutional rights, the officer arrested the man at gunpoint, charging him with eight violations including “Making a False Declaration” for giving the short form of his first name, like Mike for Michael. Because of these charges, the man lost his job as a federal contractor, which he had held for years.

Meanwhile, Ferguson authorities passed around jokes invoking that pernicious, centuries-old, slave-era stereotype of the Lazy Black Man. When President Barack Obama was first elected, they emailed each other the side-splitter that he wouldn’t serve out his term because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” While they destroyed at least one black man’s livelihood, they laughed about black men not being able to hold jobs.

No one was disciplined. Instead, authorities receiving this and other racist emails forwarded them on to their buddies. These are the people who run the city, who have the power to arrest, to incarcerate, even to kill. It is they who should now be unemployed.

Add to all of this that in Ferguson, racism was profitable. From top city officials to court officers to police, everyone was instructed to ticket, ticket, ticket the hell out of the community to fill city coffers. And so innocent people, almost always black, were targeted, cited, arrested, fined, over and over again, often for trumped up offenses. One black business owner has said he left early for work each day to leave time for the inevitable police stop.

I write and speak often about implicit racism, but this was explicit stuff that leaves no room for doubt or ambiguity. Ferguson officials, it turns out, have much in common with grand jury Witness 40, who was called to give false testimony supportive of officer Wilson, as prosecutor Bob McCulloch later conceded, even though knowingly calling a witness to give false testimony is unethical. She admitted under oath that she’d posted her own racist joke about the Ferguson protestors out grieving in the streets after the killing of Mike Brown: “They need to kill the fucking [N word].. It is like an ape fest.”

We were led to believe she was an outlier. She was not. Indeed, we see it even in Wilson’s chilling testimony that, in his view, the Ferguson community “was not well liked.” Translation: “I don’t like the people I am sworn to serve.”

One shortcoming in the DOJ report

There is one shortcoming: The DOJ does not appear to have looked at the biased grand jury proceeding that returned no indictment against Wilson, or at the prosecutor’s various failings. I did my own 25-minute presentation on the rampant biases in that grand jury.

One gets the strong impression that authorities want to be finished with the Wilson matter, and that the DOJ wanted to wrap it up with their determination that they could not prevail on federal civil rights charges against Officer Wilson, even though he worked for the very police force that it found was brimming with racism.

The issue is not whether Wilson is innocent or guilty. The issue is whether there was ever an advocate for Brown in either of the investigations. Certainly there was not in the state investigation, as the transcripts reveal.

DOJ reform suggestions center on basic respect

The DOJ concludes its otherwise thorough report with a good list of reforms, which center on community policing. They all boil down to treating citizens with respect. It’s clear to me that everyone in charge needs to be cleared out immediately. A new bunch should be brought in to put all recommended reforms in place, and they should be monitored, carefully and constantly.

But first, how about starting with an apology to the citizens of Ferguson?

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.

Photo: a katz /