Two Sides to the Ferguson Story

The latest news coming out of the federal government’s investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sends an important message to both the supporters of Michael Brown and to those who reflexively defended the town’s police department:

You were both wrong.

To those who incinerated portions of Ferguson, overturned police cars and looted stores to protest the shooting, shouting “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” — the Department of Justice declined to pursue any civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson. The DOJ found that there was no evidence to doubt that Wilson feared for his life during his confrontation with Brown.

The DOJ found that all the witness accounts that depicted Brown as a victim with his hands raised in surrender are “inconsistent with physical evidence” and were not to be believed. The DOJ found that some of the witnesses who claimed that Brown was killed while in the act of surrendering were flat-out lying. Instead, the physical evidence pointed to Brown moving towards the police officer as the shots were fired. The “Hands up!” plea by Brown that witnesses testified to and became a rallying cry of protestors in New York City and around the nation was a hands-down lie.

Wilson’s exoneration sends a strong message to all the race-baiters who descended upon Ferguson like ravenous locusts, stirring up racial hatred and inciting riots. Besides irresponsibly creating an incendiary environment that had the residents of the St. Louis area living in fear of race riots, they also smeared the name of a police officer, who, as it turns out, was just doing his duty and was genuinely afraid for his life. These so-called civil-rights leaders, who wanted to deny due process to Wilson, owe the police officer and all the property owners whose stores were torched an apology for their despicable rabble-rousing. Mainstream civil-rights leaders should distance themselves from these demagogues who whip up hatred and criminal behavior only because they want to see themselves in the national spotlight.

At the same time, to those who gave a knee-jerk defense to the actions of the Ferguson Police Department as a whole: take the time to review the DOJ’s searing report on the dismal civil rights record of the town’s police department. The DOJ found that African Americans accounted for 85 percent of all traffic stops and 90 percent of citations in Ferguson. They were also twice as likely to have their vehicle searched, even though whites were found to have illegal substances 27 percent more frequently than African Americans. The statistics reveal a troubling pattern of harassment of African Americans for petty offenses such as “manner of walking in roadway” and “peace disturbance.” Apparently, some of the motivation behind this bias was to milk African Americans in order to raise revenue for the town.

More troubling was that the DOJ found that the Ferguson Police Department disproportionately used force against African Americans. When the department used force, 88 percent of the time it was against African-American suspects.

And the discrimination didn’t stop with the police department. It also infected the town’s court system. African Americans had a much lower chance — 67 percent — than whites of having their cases dismissed in municipal court.

In addition to these blatant violations of constitutional rights, the DOJ disclosed seven emails that contain racist and hateful comments regarding African Americans. Those comments have no place anywhere, let alone in a police department that has the mandate to enforce justice and uphold the law equally for all the citizens it serves. In a way, the emails are more of an indictment than the statistics. If police officers feel free to use official email for such repugnant purposes, it reflects on a culture where racial hatred and bigotry were overlooked, if not condoned.

The DOJ’s report and its publishing of these statistics beg the question, however: Why did it take the violent confrontation between Wilson and Brown to bring them to light? If the Ferguson Police Department was tabulating these statistics, why weren’t they sent to a centralized system that would have easily detected the troubling pattern of discrimination against African Americans? Or, in the absence of such a system, the DOJ should routinely audit the statistics of police departments like Ferguson’s to uncover such rife instances of racial bias. It would be naïve to believe that Ferguson is the only town where the police are not conducting policing in a fair manner, regardless of race. It’s incumbent upon the DOJ to review the numbers of all police departments and reveal discriminatory policing wherever it’s found, because Jim Crow has no place in the police departments of America.