Though the report is not yet finalized, the New York Times is saying that the Justice Department has nearly completed a report, highly critical of police in Ferguson for “making discriminatory traffic stops of African-Americans that created years of racial animosity leading up to an officer’s shooting of a black teenager last summer.”
The New Times Times article relies on “several officials who have been briefed on the report’s conclusions.” They told the Times that“the report criticizes the city for disproportionately ticketing and arresting African-Americans and relying on the fines to balance the city’s budget.”
According to the Times, the report could be released as early as this week. It “will force Ferguson officials to either negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department or face being sued by it on civil rights charges. Either way, the result is likely to be significant changes inside the Ferguson Police Department, which is at the center of a national debate over race and policing.”
In addition, the Justice Department investigated the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, and officials have indicated they will clear officer Brown in the shooting much as the Justice Department recently cleared Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin from three years ago.
However, that clearance only gives further credibility to the bulk of the report. The Times writes, “The report into the broader practices of the local police department will give the context for the shooting, describing the mounting sense of frustration and anger in a predominantly black city where the police department and local government are mostly white.”
Eric Holder will be leaving the Attorney General’s office shortly. The investigation has “focused on the use of excessive force and the treatment of prisoners in local jails as well as the traffic stops.”
The Times writes, “Blacks accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops in 2013 but make up 63 percent of the population, according to the most recent data published by the Missouri attorney general. And once they were stopped, black drivers were twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband.”
Moreover, “For people in Ferguson who cannot afford to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops can become yearslong ordeals, with repeated imprisonments because of mounting fines. Such fines are the city’s second-largest source of revenue after sales tax. Federal investigators say that has provided a financial incentive to continue law enforcement policies that unfairly target African-Americans.”
The Times continues, “Investigators do not need to prove that Ferguson’s policies are racially motivated or that the police intentionally singled out minorities. They need to show only that police tactics had a ‘disparate impact’ on African-Americans and that this was avoidable.”
However, the report will include references to racist jokes that circulated by email among city officials and law enforcement officers.
Mayor James Knowles has criticized the Justice Department for stating publicly that wholesale change was needed in the Ferguson police department.
“How come they haven’t told us there is something that needs to be changed as they found it?” Mr. Knowles asked. “Why have they allowed whatever they think is happening to continue to happen for six months if that’s the case?”
At a press conference Eric Holder stood by the remark that indicated that he has been briefed on this all along.
“The City of Ferguson is going to make its decisions based on what its residents and the people in this region feel is necessary to move us forward,” Mayor Knowles said. He added that the city hoped that increased diversity on its police force and the creation of a citizen review board and police youth programs could help reduce tensions.
The Times writes, “For Mr. Holder, the nation’s first black attorney general, the Ferguson shooting was a signature moment. Already the most outspoken member of the Obama administration on issues of race relations, Mr. Holder became the president’s emissary to Ferguson and helped calm tensions amid protests after the shooting. He spoke in personal terms about being stopped by police as a college student and again as a prosecutor in Washington.”
“I wanted the people of Ferguson to know that I personally understood that mistrust,” Mr. Holder said last summer after returning from Missouri. “I wanted them to know that while so much else may be uncertain, this attorney general and this Department of Justice stands with the people of Ferguson.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting