Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, routinely violated the constitutional rights of the city’s African-American residents and made racist jokes in their city email accounts, according to a newly released report from the Justice Department’s investigation of conduct by Ferguson police officers in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in the St. Louis suburb last summer. The Justice Department says the discrimination was fueled by racial stereotypes held by city officials, which contributed to years of excessive force and unjustified traffic stops by officers, according to a report summary provided to the New York Times. The full report, expected to be released Wednesday, will likely clear former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson of any civil rights violations in Brown’s shooting.
In just the last two years, African-Americans, who make up about two-thirds of the Ferguson population, accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of traffic tickets, 93 percent of police arrests and 88 percent of police use-of-force cases, the Times reported. In all 14 police-dog bite incidents in Ferguson, the person bitten was African-American, according to a Washington Post report of the findings. Black motorists were also twice as likely as whites to be searched, but they were less likely than whites to possess drugs or guns, according to the Justice Department’s report.
Ferguson’s elected officials face a lawsuit on constitutional violations if they negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department, similar to one negotiated recently with a city police department in Ohio. The report is the result of hundreds of interviews by federal investigators, a review of 35,000 pages of police records, and meetings with officials. U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder promised the probe last year, and the Justice Department initiated it Sept. 4.
The findings are no surprise to the city’s minorities, who said the protests and violence that erupted after Brown’s death were fueled in part by years of discrimination and mistrust created by officials. A task force created last year by President Barack Obama following the deaths of two unarmed black men and boys this week issued a draft report calling for the widespread use of body cameras that record officers’ interactions with residents.