Dept of Justice on Ferguson:
A Sliver of Truth About the Thoroughly Racist, Rotten Police Department

March 9, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


What was the situation of Black people on August 9, 2014, the day Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson? What was the pattern and practice of the Ferguson Police Department that Darren Wilson was part of?

A new report by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) uncovers some of the ugly truth about the Ferguson police. Based on a six-month investigation, the 100-page report documents how Black people in Ferguson are subjected to blatant racial discrimination and violations of their constitutional rights as well as the thoroughly racist culture in the Ferguson Police Department and among city officials.

The very day this report was released, on March 4, the U.S. Department of IN-Justice also announced that no civil rights charges would be brought against Darren Wilson. (See "The Real Truth on the Ferguson Cover-up: Michael Brown—Like Thousands Before and Hundreds Since—Did NOT Deserve To Die!")

Two basic points:

Ferguson, August 2014Clayton, Mo., Oct. 2014. AP photo

#1: NONE of what’s in this report would be coming out from the U.S. government if it had not been for the powerful upsurge of the people—first the heroic protests in the streets of Ferguson after the police killing of Michael Brown in August 2014 and then the spreading of this spirit of rebellion against police murder around the country, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in the fall and winter and into 2015, especially after grand juries refused to indict the cops who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

#2: If you really step back and look at the whole situation, it becomes clear that what is being unearthed and brought to public light around the police in Ferguson is NOT due to “a few bad apples” but something deeply ingrained in the whole nature of the police and the culture that goes with this. This is something that no doubt can be found in police departments all over the USA. And as has been shown time after time, in city after city, the police get away with crimes against Black people, including brutality and murder.


The DOJ report reveals criminal practices that are routine and thorough, affecting “nearly every aspect of Ferguson police and court operations.” Federal investigators conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed 35,000 pages of police records and analyzed race data compiled for every police stop. It details the widespread, pervasive, systematic and inescapable racism that permeates the town and city structures of Ferguson.

Blatant Racial Discrimination

The report found that:

  • African-Americans, who make up 67 percent of the population in Ferguson, account for 85 percent of those subjected to traffic stops, get 90 percent of tickets, and are 93 percent of those arrested.
  • A Black driver stopped by the police is twice as likely to be searched as a white driver who is stopped—even though searches of white drivers are more likely to turn up drugs or other contraband.
  • Black people are more likely to be cited and arrested following a stop regardless of why the stop was initiated and are more likely to receive multiple citations during a single incident.
  • Nearly 90 percent of documented use of force by Ferguson cops was used against Black people.
  • In every police dog bite incident for which racial information is available, the person bitten was African-American.
  • Black people are 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by the court, and are more likely to have their cases last longer and result in more court appearances. Of those actually arrested only because of an outstanding municipal warrant, 96 percent are African- American.

Cops make decisions all the time about who they will and will not target, stop, harass, brutalize. It is almost certainly the case that white people just standing on the corner are a lot less likely to be considered “suspicious” by the cops than a group of Black youths doing the same thing.

The report found that such racist actions are used in even the most minor offenses like jaywalking. No doubt lots of people in Ferguson jaywalk, but Black people accounted for 95 percent of all jaywalking tickets. (People might remember that Darren Wilson said he stopped Michael Brown for “walking in the street.”) Citations for Disturbing the Peace were brought almost exclusively against Black people; 94 percent of those hit with Failure to Comply charges were Black.

Violating People’s Rights

Ferguson cops blatantly violate people’s constitutional rights—stopping them without “reasonable suspicion,” arresting them without “probable cause” (actual legal requirement that must be met for law enforcement to arrest or search someone) and using “unreasonable force.” By law, people have the right to decline to identify themselves to a police officer, but Ferguson cops routinely arrest individuals for failure to identify themselves despite lacking reasonable suspicion to stop them in the first place. The report also documents how Ferguson cops brutalize people with mental health conditions.

Ferguson cops blatantly violate people’s First Amendment freedom of speech rights. People are punished for lawful activities like talking back to police, recording public police activities, and protesting injustices.

Example: On February 9, 2015, several individuals were protesting outside the Ferguson police station on the six-month anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. According to protesters, and consistent with several video recordings from that evening, the protesters stood peacefully in the police department’s parking lot, on the sidewalks in front of it, and across the street. Video footage shows that two FPD vehicles abruptly accelerated from the police parking lot into the street. An officer announced, “everybody here’s going to jail,” causing the protesters to run. Video shows that as one man recorded the police arresting others, he was arrested for interfering with police action. Officers pushed him to the ground, began handcuffing him, and announced, “stop resisting or you’re going to get tased.” It appears from the video, however, that the man was neither interfering nor resisting. A protester in a wheelchair who was live streaming the protest was also arrested. (DOJ Report, p. 27)

The New Jim Crow

“Thousands of people ... take money from their disability checks or sacrifice money that is desperately needed by their families for food, diapers, clothing, rent, and utilities to pay ever increasing court fines, fees, costs, and surcharges... They are told that, if they do not pay, they will be thrown in jail. The cycle repeats itself, month after month, for years.”

—From a class-action lawsuit against the City of Ferguson,
describing the city’s modern-day debtors’ prison

Clayton, MO, Oct. 2014Ferguson protest, August 2014.

The book Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon describes the many different ways African-Americans were re-enslaved after the Civil War. Under laws specifically aimed at Black people, tens of thousands were arbitrarily arrested for things like loitering and vagrancy or standing in the street. They were hit with outrageous fines and charged with the costs of their own arrests. Prisoners with no means to pay these “debts” were sold as forced laborers to owners of coal mines, lumber camps, farm plantations, etc. These prisoners supposedly had the opportunity to “buy their freedom” by paying back their debt. But they never could because their new “owners” charged them the costs of their clothing and shelter—so they remained enslaved, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Today in Ferguson, there is a white racist establishment that funds the city by locking up poor Black people for no reason and extorting money from them—it’s a modern-day version of the Jim Crow debtors’ prisons.

Cities all over the country generate huge revenue through traffic tickets. The city of Ferguson not only relies on such revenue, but has also instituted a whole system where Black people are singled out for the most excessive fines, fees, and incarceration for minor traffic violations. Again, consider the fact that Black people are 67 percent of the population in Ferguson but are 85 percent of those subjected to traffic stops, get 90 percent of tickets, and are 93 percent of those arrested. Ferguson cops routinely issue multiple citations during a single stop, often for the same violation—in some cases writing six, eight, or, in at least one instance, 14 citations for a single encounter. Then people are caught in an endless web of late fees, further violations, warrants, and incarceration.

In 2013 alone, the Ferguson court issued more than 9,000 warrants on cases stemming in large part from minor violations such as parking infractions, traffic tickets, or housing code violations. Jail time is generally considered too harsh a penalty for these types of code violations. Yet the municipal court in Ferguson routinely issues warrants for people to be arrested and incarcerated when they fail to pay fines and fees on time.

Example: One woman ... received two parking tickets for a single violation in 2007 that then totaled $151 plus fees. Over seven years later, she still owed Ferguson $541—after already paying $550 in fines and fees, having multiple arrest warrants issued against her, and being arrested and jailed on several occasions. Another woman told us that when she went to court to try to pay $100 on a $600 outstanding balance, the Court Clerk refused to take the partial payment, even though the woman explained that she was a single mother and could not afford to pay more that month. A 90-year-old man had a warrant issued for his arrest after he failed to timely pay the five citations FPD issued to him during a single traffic stop in 2013. An 83-year-old man had a warrant issued against him when he failed to timely resolve his Derelict Auto violation. A 67-year-old woman told us she was stopped and arrested by a Ferguson police officer for an outstanding warrant for failure to pay a trash-removal citation. (DOJ report, p.42)

The way that Black people in Ferguson are targeted, arrested, or cited for minor offenses, hit with fines and fees they usually cannot pay, with warrants issued for their arrests if they fail to appear in court or pay fees and fines... this modern-day debtors’ prison is part of the whole continuing system of white supremacy in the U.S., where Black people are oppressed through many layers of political, economic, and cultural oppression.

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, spoke recently to what this actually means for people:

“I hear people often say, ‘Oh, come on, it’s just a misdemeanor. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like they have a felony.’ Well, today, a misdemeanor can show up on your record, through a few keystrokes on the computer by an employer, and it can be the reason that you’re denied an opportunity to work. It can also be the reason you’re denied access to housing. Public housing officials are free to discriminate against you on the basis of criminal records, including arrest records. And so, you know, what you find is that even for these extremely minor offenses, people find themselves trapped in a permanent second-class status and struggling to survive. So I think it’s critically important that we not dismiss these kinds of charges that are being brought against folks as being minor and shrug them off. No, they can actually alter the course of one’s life.” (Democracy Now!, March 4, 2015)

Racist Culture in Police and Government

Talk to Black people in Ferguson and they’ll tell you how when they are stopped, harassed, and beaten by the police they also have to endure the most-racist insults hurled at them by the police. The DOJ report sheds some light on the whole culture of white supremacy in the Ferguson Police Department and city government.

There are ugly examples of the racist culture like remarks in emails or casually traded comments between police supervisors and court officials. One email from a city official depicts Black people as monkeys. Another says that Black women having abortions is a way to stop crime. Another says Obama would not be president for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years?” One email included a photo of a bare-chested group of dancing women, apparently in Africa, with the caption, “Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.” Another email stated: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers...’” Another email joked about a man seeking to obtain “welfare” for his dogs because they are “mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddies are.” Another email included jokes based on offensive stereotypes about Muslims.

There is no indication that any officer or court clerk engaged in these communications was ever disciplined before the DOJ report came out; no one was ever even asked to refrain from such activity—in fact, the racist emails were usually forwarded along to others.


The report does reveal some of the ugly truth about the oppression of Black people in Ferguson. But at the same time, it is clearly not about—nor could it be about—actually doing something to put an end to such crimes against the people. Just look at what all else is going on around the release of this report: The continuing brutality and murder of Black people by cops and the continuing workings of the system to let killer cops go free.

To re-emphasize: The government wouldn’t have even come out with this DOJ report if it had not been for the tremendous upsurge in Ferguson—which spread and grew to tens of thousands around the country protesting grand jury decisions to not indict the cops who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The so-called “solutions” in the DOJ report are aimed at leading people into dead ends and away from what is really needed: persevering in the righteous protests and going even further in building mass resistance against police murder.

The rot in the Ferguson Police Department runs DEEP and is part of the whole capitalist-imperialist system. This system has NO future for millions of Black people, especially the youth, and the rulers use their brutal pigs to enforce oppression and exploitation.

As the chant that rang in these streets of Ferguson and then around the country put it: “Indict, convict, put the killer cops in jail! The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”

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