Justice Department Will Exonerate Wilson, But Hammer Ferguson Police for Biased Policing

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

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. zaqzaq

    At least Holder did not drag this one out as long as the Zimmerman case although he did more grandstanding in Ferguson.  He promised a vigorous investigation creating a false hope for a segment of that population.  Did he ever go back after the grand jury decision?  I wonder what the results would be if they did a study similar to the one conducted in New Jersey to determine ethnic driving patterns.  The feds definitely have the resources and had time to conduct one.  Just a thought.

    1. David Greenwald

      It will be interesting to see what they did with regards to that. If they end up addressing the underlying issues, I don’t think it’s false hope. My belief from the start is that a lot of that reaction was due to the lack of trust and the underlying issues rather than the actual incident. We’ll see.

    2. TrueBlueDevil

      Obama and Holder have no desire or comprehension of a study like the one conducted in New Jersey. Obama learned at the knee of Franklin Marshall Davis.

      Holder has also suggested (like Al Sharpton) that we lower standards for hate crime laws, and when asked what book young people should read, he said “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

    1. David Greenwald

      Thanks. I surprised I didn’t make that mistake sooner. The Sheriff in the Bob Marley song, I shot the Sheriff was John Brown, so I always had the names backwards in my mind but had avoided the mistake on the site until now.

  2. Anon

    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.

    Okay, so which is it, racism or balancing the budget?  Often aggressive policing is used to try and find ways to issue tickets that come with hefty fines as a way to bolster the jurisdiction’s budget.  Many small towns are infamous for this sort of thing, as are some cities.  Obviously it could have been a bit of both (racism and balancing the budget). However, bringing the issue of balancing the city’s budget muddies the waters IMO.

    1. Davis Progressive

      again you’re question demonstrates you fail to understand the issue.  it’s not that the ferguson city council is necessarily being racist by setting the parking violation policies.  it’s thhat it is creating a disproportion impact (see the language the times cites) impacting the poorer minority community.  the result is they are exacerbating existing tensions.

      1. Anon

        So you are conceding that Ferguson was not about overt racism by police, just racism by accident because of ticketing policies?  Talk about weakening your argument!

        1. Davis Progressive

          i said no such thing – don’t twist my words.

          what i said was that the issue of the parking violation policies was not overt racism.  the biased police stops and use of force complaints are another matter.

  3. zaqzaq

    Looks like we are going to a quota system for traffic citations regardless of who is committing the offenses.  If more officers are patrolling high crime areas which are disproportionately black and then issuing citations for traffic stops they observe in those neighborhoods they will logically cite more of the residents who happen to be black.  If officers are more likely to search an individual for weapons in a high violent crime area where the residents are mostly black they may well end up searching more black suspects.  The challenge will be to show a “disparate impact” on minority individuals and was avoidable.  It has the appearance of a Holder witch hunt to show his constituents that he is doing something when he let them down in the Zimmerman and Wilson investigations to nowhere.

    1. Anon

      For me, Holder showed his own form of bias when assuming racism was involved in the Zimmerman and Wilson cases.  A disappointed Holder found no such thing.

        1. Davis Progressive

          BP: “Does anyone really trust anything that comes out of this politically and racially biased DOJ anymore?”

          BP: “My my, Wilson and Zimmerman exonerated by the DOJ.  How many on here were so sure that they were guilty.  Good thing there are some level headed people still out there.”

          so which is it?

  4. Barack Palin

    My my, Wilson and Zimmerman exonerated by the DOJ.  How many on here were so sure that they were guilty.  Good thing there are some level headed people still out there.

    1. David Greenwald

      I find your comment offensive Barack. Two young men die and you’re comments are mocking people’s legitimate concerns about those deaths and acting like this is a football game where you mock the loser rather than a tragic incident.

      1. zaqzaq


        I find your response offensive.   A police officer was crucified publicly by members of the public and media shortly after the incident based on lies (hands up).  Holder and the Obama participated in this process by meeting with the family, launching a huge investigation targeting Wilson, white house officials attending the funeral and then releasing a belated report clearing the officer.  It would be nice if Holder apologized to Wilson for all he was put through by Holder’s DOJ.  We should be offended when the white house sends officials to the funeral of a violent thug which further publicly  crucifies Officer Wilson who was lawfully performing his job.  It appears that Holder wanted the investigation to support charges against Wilson so that he could be prosecuted by Holder’s DOJ.  Just another scalp on Holder’s belt.  It did not turn out that way.  There seems to be little thought into how Wilson’s life has been negatively impacted by him legally doing his job.

        1. David Greenwald

          Your points have some validity, but the response is: two wrongs don’t make a right. Mocking people’s concerns about a police shooting is not the appropriate response to concerns that you’ve listed, even if I agreed they were accurate.

        2. Davis Progressive

          i agree with david.  the purpose of bp’s post was to be antagonistic to people of a different opinion.  to me the justice department’s findings illustrate the difficulty of assessing the racial component of police-citizen incidents.  but regardless, this is not a football game where we route for one team and mock the opponent. that’s the antithesis of civil discourse.  you’re welcome to disagree with me on the specifics of the issue, but bp’s post served no purpose other than to incite and antagonize.

    2. TrueBlueDevil

      It’s as if Jarrett, Obama and Holder wanted to turn Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown into Rosa Parks. I think they make very poor choices which reveal their radical views and inability to wait for the facts to come out.

      I’m sure this officer has had death threats, probably lost his occupation, he still faces a likely civil trial, and it probably would be tough for him to win a slander or libel suit.

      1. Davis Progressive

        to me your comment is absurd and dripping with partisan vitriole that is obscuring your more rational side.  it’s obvious that obama and holder had similar concerns to many of us.  they expressed those concerns while at the same time they conducted a thorough investigation.  i would have to really delve into their investigation but the standard for criminal prosecution is necessarily high and that bears reminder.

      2. Tia Will

        It would seem to me that some basic empathy, sympathy for loss and civility all the way around might have been warranted and might have been associated with much less blame and condemnation.

        What if in the beginning, the involved officer had made a statement saying that while he believed that his actions were warranted, he deeply regretted the death of his young man and was going to voluntarily undergoing additional training in conflict and crisis management. What if the chief of police had stated immediately that the entire department would be having additional training in  alternative means of crisis and conflict management ?

        What if Holder and company were to apologize for their initial tone, but not for the investigation, which was completely warranted.

        When looking at the loss here, I believe that it is important to look at the magnitude of the loss. While the  police officer may indeed have received death threats, this young man’s parents have seen their son lose his life for actions that all have agreed would not have warranted the death penalty if the stop had been handled differently and not allowed to escalate. So while the police officer gets his second chance at rebuilding his life and his career, the same cannot be said for Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          The officer probably had counsel, and was probably prohibited from commenting. I agree they could all tone it down a lot.

          But your other comments make no sense  and defy what happened. He was attacked by a 300-pound man who tried to pry his gun away from him, through his car window. What do you think Michael Brown would have done with the gun? He would have executed the officer. If Mr. Brown had walked to the curb, we would never know his name. I have not heard exactly what the officer said that is corroborated, but we know that even Eric Holder agreed that those that claimed his hands were up were lying.

          The moral of the story is that if you attack someone at night and bash their head into the concrete, or try to take an officer’s gun and attack him in his car, you’re asking for trouble. It is best to walk or run away.

    3. Barack Palin

      DP and David, you’re both wrong.  My post wasn’t meant to be antagonistic, it was meant to show how some people automatically took the leap that Zimmerman and Wilson were at fault with an underlying tone of racism being involved.  Many of us here looked at the facts without being racially biased and our conclusions turned out to be right.  I was just trying to show that in the future people need to take a breath and quit jumping to race biased conclusions both nationally and right here in Davis.

      1. Davis Progressive

        okay bp, i’ll take you at your word.  the “my my” beginning suggested you were taunting and then the portion that “How many on here were so sure that they were guilty.”  but i’m going to take you at your word that your intention was to show people need to take a breath and quit jumping to race.

        i have a different view of course, but i wanted to accept your explanation at face value before getting to it.

        from my perspective, i believe that it is likely that race still played a huge role in things but that the doj did not have enough evidence to convict.  i work at the state ag’s office and we face that dilemma all the time.  it doesn’t change my mind their decision, but i respect it.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          From my perspective, economics, and an inner city subculture played a huge role. But I’m glad you’re able to take time away from your state AG job to contribute here.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    A few additional insights.

    – So a number of individuals claimed that this young man was on his knees, hands up, saying “Don’t shoot”. They apparently were telling huge lies.

    – Michael Brown’s parents apparently violently assaulted (and theft) some people selling t-shirts with her son’t name, and it looks like they should face charges, but there is concern about a bad community reaction.



  6. TrueBlueDevil

    Leaks about the new report seem to be a mixed bag.

    – Disproportionate crime statistics are not proof of racism, this isn’t even sophomoric thinking. National statistics are disproportionate. Men commit far more crime than women, and are stopped far more often: by Holder’s logic, men are victims of sexism, and European-Americans receive racist behavior because they commit more crime that Japanese-Americans.

    – Unequal treatment by the courts is a topic I’d like to read more about, the devil is in the details.

    – Revenue generation via small violations: was this really SOP, or is this assumed?

    – Racist emails. One person has been fired and two suspended, good riddance. But I think there is even good news here. If they have to go back 8 years to cite an offensive email, and the total of offensive (“racist”) emails is 7 over an 8-year period for an entire police department, some might consider that good news. It isn’t just teenagers who lack discretion with our new social media / communication.

    – Ferguson has reportedly shown an open attitude towards making needed changes, but I’m also sure they’re under intense nationwide pressure.

    This is a highly political DOJ, so it is tough to trust anything they do. Breaking news right now is that they’re going to to take down one of their own. Why? Is it because the Senator very publicly disagreed with the President on some high-profile issues? The Chicago Way?

    “The Justice Department is preparing to bring criminal corruption charges against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, alleging he used his Senate office to push the business interests of a Democratic donor and friend in exchange for gifts.”


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