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March 6, 2015

Justice Dept. report on Ferguson slams local police


In an investigation sparked by the shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Justice Department found patterns of police misconduct, racial bias and a disregard for the community.

The Justice Department released the report at the same time it announced that it would not bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown during a confrontation, because the policeman in this instance did “not constitute prosecutable violations” of civil rights law.

However, the city of Ferguson used its police and court system to raise money through tickets and arrests, many made illegally, according to the report.

“This investigation found a community that was deeply polarized, a community where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents, a community where local authorities consistently approached law enforcement not as a means for protecting public safety, but as a way to generate revenue,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

In Ferguson, where two-thirds of residents are black and the police force is mostly white, black citizens accounted for 93 percent of arrests, the report said. Officers regularly stopped pedestrians without probable cause and used a disproportionate level of force when they were challenged.

The Justice Department’s report described an ineffective court system, where police heavily influenced court outcomes and the city’s prosecutor also served as its lawyer.

The report also uncovered racist emails sent by members of the department. One of the employees who wrote the emails has been fired, and two more have been suspended.

A change in the city’s practices will require a shift in the leadership and culture of Ferguson, Rev. Starsky Wilson, chair of the Ferguson Commission, said.

In the meantime, Michael Brown’s family plans to file a wrongful death suit against the city and Darren Wilson.

Warm up questions
  1. Where is Ferguson, Missouri?
  2. What is the job of police?
  3. What do you know about the Michael Brown shooting?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why is it a problem that the city’s prosecutor is also its lawyer?
  2. How can Ferguson begin to improve the relationship between community and police for the better?
  3. Do you think this report will help create change? Why or why not?
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