Ferguson, Missouri police menaced African-American citizens for revenue, US federal investigation concludes
March 5, 2015 - 10:02AM
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In the City of Ferguson on the outskirts of St Louis in Missouri, police did not protect and serve, rather they menaced African-American citizens for revenue, encouraged by city officials and enabled by local courts, a federal investigation has found.
The were driven by "implicit and explicit racial bias," an investigation launched by the Department of Justice after the riots that exploded in Ferguson, St Louis, after the unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by an officer last year has found.
.....The report, which Mr Holder called "searing" described how police officers targeted African Americans in street and traffic stops, and that in some cases competed with one another to issue the most number of citations for a single infraction, and how city officials had boasted that the fines they issued were higher than those by neighbouring jurisdictions.
It showed how local courts then ensured that African-Americans did not have those fines voided.
Further it found that city officials sometimes simply closed the facilities for people to pay their fines, then increased penalties.
Mr Holder described a case in which one African-American woman was issued with two parking fines totaling $US152. During her struggle to pay she incurred further fines, spent six days in jail, paid $US552 and today still owes over $US500.
He described the case of man cooling off in his car by a park after a game of basketball when police approached, claiming they suspected him of being a paedophile because there were children in the park. He was fined for eight difference offences, including lying to police because he had given his name as Mike rather than Michael. He went on to lose his license, which in turn cost him his job.
Addressing reporters in Washington, DC, Mr Holder said that he understood why the Michael Brown shooting had prompted such a violent response, even if police had not broken the law in the shooting itself.
"Of course, violence is never justified," he said.
"But seen in this context – amid a highly toxic environment, defined by mistrust and resentment, stoked by years of bad feelings, and spurred by illegal and misguided practices – it is not difficult to imagine how a single tragic incident set off the city of Ferguson like a powder keg.
"In a sense, members of the community may not have been responding only to a single isolated confrontation, but also to a pervasive, corrosive, and deeply unfortunate lack of trust – attributable to numerous constitutional violations by their law enforcement officials including First Amendment abuses, unreasonable searches and seizures, and excessive and dangerous use of force; exacerbated by severely disproportionate use of these tactics against African-Americans; and driven by overriding pressure from the city to use law enforcement not as a public service, but as a tool for raising revenue."
The report also described a series of obscene racist jokes found on the city's email system.
Last month the St Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch decried Ferguson's practice of filling public coffers through ticketing as immoral.
"If you think that taxation of our citizens through traffic enforcement in St Louis County is bad, you have no idea how bad it is," said during a panel discussion last month. "It decreases our legitimacy in law enforcement when they think the only that the only thing police officers are out there for is to write tickets and bring it back to their city coffers. It is immoral."
Since the riots the Ferguson mayor, James Knowles, has been criticised for insisting there is no racial divide in his town.
The Justice Department will now seek to work with the Ferguson police to reform its practices, though there has already been speculation that the mayor, police chief and city manager will be forced to resign.