Shortly after the Department of Justice released its full report on racist and discriminatory practices used within the Ferguson Police Department, Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a speech condemning his department’s findings.
Holder, who will vacate his position once attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch is confirmed by the Senate, launched an investigation into the controversial police department shortly after unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson last August. Holder pledged that the DOJ would examine all of the facts and uncover any wrongdoings within the police department. After six months of examining police records and evidence, and conducting hundreds of interviews, investigators found that police disproportionately target the city’s Black residents, who account for 67 percent of the population, yet make up 93 percent of arrests.
“As detailed in our searing report—also released by the Justice Department today—this investigation found a community that was deeply polarized; a community where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents,” Holder said in his speech on Wednesday.
He pointed to the department’s unethical methods of generating revenue, including issuing multiple citations on the same occasion and unfairly fining citizens. Holder used the example of one woman who owed $152 for two parking tickets. She has paid $550 in fines and was jailed for six days, yet still owes the city $541. In 2010, the city earned $1.3 million in fines, but for the 2015 fiscal year, that figure is expected to jump to $3 million.
The report also found that police officers routinely target Black people for non-offenses, infringing on their constitutional rights. Police dogs are released almost exclusively on Black residents, and on many occasions, police approached Black people for no apparent reason and demanded identification.
“Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them,” Holder said, citing the case of a Black man who was sitting in his car after playing basketball. Police approached him, accused him of being a pedophile and demanded that he exit his vehicle so the officer could pat him down. After he refused, the officer aimed a gun at the man’s head and arrested him.
“Even in cases where police encounters start off as constitutionally defensible, we found that they frequently and rapidly escalate—and end up blatantly and unnecessarily crossing the line,” Holder said.
Even though the Ferguson community’s outrage and protests were incited by Brown’s death, Holder said that the backlash was a long time coming.
“In a sense, members of the community may not have been responding only to a single isolated confrontation, but also to a pervasive, corrosive, and deeply unfortunate lack of trust – attributable to numerous constitutional violations by their law enforcement officials including First Amendment abuses, unreasonable searches and seizures, and excessive and dangerous use of force,” he said.
Speaking to his commitment to serve Ferguson, Holder outlined DOJ-issued recommendations for the police department that are intended to restore public trust. Among the recommendations are more community involvement in the department’s decision-making process, a review of policing policies and the implementation of a better system to handle misconduct.
Though Holder did not outline a timeline for the changes to be made, the DOJ is demanding immediate reform and reserves the right to sue if the city doesn’t comply. Ferguson will face an upcoming lawsuit from Brown’s family, who announced yesterday that they were planning on filing a wrongful-death suit “very shortly.”
“We are encouraged that the DOJ will hold the Ferguson Police Department accountable for the pattern of racial bias and profiling they found in their handling of interactions with people of color,” the family said in a statement. “It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country. If that change happens, our son’s death will not have been in vain.”