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A memorial for Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was accosted for jaywalking before being shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo: NeonTommy/cc/flickr)

As Darren Wilson Walks Free, DOJ Reveals Blatant Racism at Ferguson Police Department

'In cities and towns across the United States, communities of color are under siege by their own police departments,' says rights advocate

Lauren McCauley

The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday announced that it will not prosecute former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown.

However, an internal probe by the federal agency also released Wednesday charged that the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) is itself guilty of racism as well as systematic and often brutal targeting of African American citizens.

The federal investigation of Ferguson's records from 2012 to 2014, the results of which were leaked to the press ahead of the formal announcement, found that although African Americans make up only 67 percent of the population, they constituted a highly disproportionate number of arrests. According to the probe, black citizens accounted for 93 percent of total arrests, 96 percent of people arrested in traffic stops solely for an outstanding warrant, 95 percent of jaywalking charges, 94 percent of failure-to-comply charges, and 92 percent of all disturbing-the-peace charges.

Further, the probe found that in 88 percent of the cases in which Ferguson police used force, it was against African Americans, while all 14 instances of police dog bites also involved black citizens.

 "An entire community is not making this up."
—Patricia Bynes, Ferguson Democratic Committeewoman

The report also uncovered at least three internal emails that displayed blatant racism. According to the documents, in one instance a personnel member suggested that an increase in abortions by African American women would lower crime, while another email contained a cartoon depicting African Americans as monkeys.

The Department of Justice cites a "pattern or practice of racial bias" at the department and notes that, "The combination of Ferguson’s racial bias and its focus on generating revenue over public safety has a profound effect on the FPD’s police and court practices."

Following the DOJ announcement, advocates said they were surprised by neither the dismissal of charges nor the findings of discrimination.

In a statement following the announcement, the Ferguson chapter of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network said the DOJ decision "whitewashes and gives a stamp of approval to the brutal murder of Michael Brown and gives a green light to killer cops everywhere. This is a slap in the face to Michael Brown’s family and to all who stood up against this injustice." The group is protesting the decision Wednesday evening at the spot Michael Brown was killed, on Canfield Avenue in Ferguson.

News that the DOJ would not be pursuing civil rights charges against Wilson first broke in late January, however, Wednesday's announcement marks the formal close of the federal investigation into the August 9, 2014 shooting of Michael Brown.

"Federal officials concluded there was no evidence to disprove Wilson's testimony that he feared for his safety, nor was there reliable evidence that Michael Brown had his hands up when he was shot," AP reports.

Despite the alleged lack of evidence, the DOJ investigation reveals why interactions between police officers and black community members were so fraught.

"We have some sense now, based on this report, of why Michael Brown might have been so frustrated and so angry when he was being harassed by the police for jaywalking," Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow and Ohio State University professor, told Democracy Now! on Wednesday. "You get some sense of what’s really going on in these communities."

"We have some sense now, based on this report, of why Michael Brown might have been so frustrated and so angry when he was being harassed by the police for jaywalking."
—Michelle Alexander

Alexander said that the people of Ferguson, who say they "feel like their living in occupied territory," are not crazy. "There is a system of racial and social control in communities of color across America."

Echoing Alexander's words, Ferguson Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes told Yahoo News, "An entire community is not making this up."

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, notes that while the Ferguson Police Department's record is "intolerable," the findings of the investigation "are not unique to Ferguson."

Mittman continues:

In cities and towns across the United States, communities of color are under siege by their own police departments.

Here in the St. Louis area, all of us as a community must first look back at the shooting of Michael Brown and the protests that followed. Darren Wilson, a white police officer who stated Mr. Brown looked like a 'demon,' shot the unarmed teenager down in the street. And that officer was employed by a department that treated blacks unfairly and circulated racist 'jokes.'

On Monday, President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing released its report along with a list of recommendations, many of which emphasized building mutual trust and respect and focused on the idea that a police department is first meant to protect and serve its citizenry.

Calling for reform and a new model of community policing that "respects community and individual rights," Mittman added: "We must find a way forward."

"If we fail to do so, our past of racial segregation and discrimination will continue to haunt us," he said. "The only difference now is that the 'Whites Only' signs have been replaced by a 'new Jim Crow' that demeans African-Americans through arrests, fines, and imprisonment."

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