Portrait of Discrimination: Justice Department's Scathing Findings on Race and Policing in Ferguson

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African-Americans make up about two-thirds the population of Ferguson, Mo. but account for the vast majority of traffic stops, tickets and arrests, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In its six-month civil rights probe  the Justice Department found that the nearly all-white Ferguson Police Department routinely violated the constitutional rights (namely the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments) of the city's black residents.They were targeted them at disproportionately high rates and often without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The scathing 100-page report, released Wednesday, charts the frequency of illegal policing tactics in Ferguson, which it suggests are largely driven by a toxic combination of systemic, systemic racial bias and pressure to generate revenue for the city through fines. These include an undue focus on minor infractions like "Failure to Comply" and "Manner of Walking on Roadway."

From the report:

"Ferguson's law enforcement practices are shaped by the City's focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson's police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing , and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community ...

"Partly as a consequence of City and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson's predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue."

Ferguson collected $2.6 million in court fines and fees last year, its second largest source of income — about 21 percent of its total budget.


The investigation was prompted by weeks of violent protests after the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man shot in Ferguson last August by white police officer Darren Wilson. The event and subsequent protests garnered international attention and became a flash point for race and policing issues in America.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department also announced findings from a separate investigation clearing Wilson of any civil rights violations.

The larger police report outlines 26 recommendations for reforming Ferguson's police department. They include prioritizing public safety over revenue and improving training and oversight. City officials will likely have to consent to making these changes or face being sued by the Justice Department on charges of violating the Constitution.

And although specific to Ferguson, the report has larger implications for many of the nation's nearly 18,000 local police departments. Under Attorney General Eric Holder lead, the department has investigated more than 20 local police departments, issuing damaging findings against a handful of large cities including Newark; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Cleveland.

For more on how the Justice Department actually reforms a police department and how it began keeping tabs after the 1992 Los Angeles Riots: