Justice Department Has Some Thoughts On The Ferguson P.D.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department released two reports related to last summer’s events in Ferguson, Missouri. One report dealt with Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown. The other dealt with the city of Ferguson being run by a bunch of racist shitheels who used the mostly black and impoverished civilian population as a perpetual revenue-generating machine instead of treating them like human beings. Guess which report the wingnutgentsia seems most interested in!
First, the news for anyone still heavily invested in the “hands up don’t shoot” narrative. The report knocks that down, finding that the most credible eyewitness statements combined with the physical evidence do indeed support Wilson’s contention that Brown leaned through the open window of the cop’s SUV to grab his gun, that he never stopped and raised his hands in the traditional “I surrender” pose, and that he was moving toward Wilson and didn’t stop until Wilson shot him half a dozen times, including the last shot to the head that killed him. No, it makes absolutely zero sense why Brown took such a chance over a few shoplifted cigarillos, but the report is pretty convincing.
This is not to say, as some on the right are whining, that there is NO evidence or that Wilson is “innocent.” The DOJ concluded that the officer did not willfully and purposefully violate Brown’s civil rights under the Constitution, nor were the charges “objectively unreasonable” enough to earn a conviction from a jury. As Eric Holder said recently, there is a very high bar for evidence in cases such as this. Wilson thinking that Brown looked like “a demon” capable of removing his head from his shoulders and feasting on his entrails might go to his state of mind when he pulled the trigger (and could be indicative of a general attitude in the Ferguson P.D. as a whole, which we’ll get to), but it didn’t justify filing federal charges.
Could a state prosecution have acquitted Wilson of murder but convicted him of a lesser charge, such as negligent homicide or manslaughter or use of excessive force or something? Well, the state of Missouri pretty much put its thumb on the scales on that one with its grand jury shenanigans, so we’ll never know.
Now, to the report on the Ferguson Police Department. This is a lot more fun, if your definition of fun is enraging, soul-crushing, unspeakable depression over the continued power imbalance in large swaths of America between mostly white legal authorities and mostly minority and/or impoverished populations. DISCLAIMER: Wonkette is not legally responsible if you fail to take your beta blockers before reading on.
The report is 102 pages of evidence that the city of Ferguson saw its mostly black residents as an endlessly renewable resource for money to be collected through fines and fees, and the police department functioned as its collection agency. Imagine if Tony Soprano had been the mayor of Newark and Christopher had been the chief of police, and you might have an idea of what was going on in Ferguson.
As the DOJ report flat-out states:
The City’s emphasis on revenue generation has a profound effect on FPD’s approach to law enforcement. Patrol assignments and schedules are geared toward aggressive enforcement of Ferguson’s municipal code, with insufficient thought given to whether enforcement
Strategies promote public safety or unnecessarily undermine community trust and cooperation.
Ya don’t say.
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 has allowed its focus on revenue generation to fundamentally compromise the role of Ferguson’s municipal court. The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City’s financial interests. This has led to court practices that violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection requirements. The court’s practices also impose unnecessary harm, overwhelmingly on African-American individuals, and run counter to public safety.
You know how conservatives are always whining about taxation being tyranny depriving them of their hard-earned money, and those taxes are collected at the barrel of a gun in the form of onerous governmental authority? THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF A GOVERNMENT LITERALLY TAXING ITS CITIZENS AT THE BARREL OF A GUN. So no, we don’t want to hear any whining about Obamacare again. Ever. We'll be happy to hear you guys take up the cause of Ferguson's minority population over its treatment, though, you principled conservatives, you. Anyone? Bueller?
The report goes on with example after example of residents who have been overcharged with crimes, the resolutions of which involved draining their already limited finances to pay huge fines on small crap like parking violations and failing to appear in court. There are also quotes from emails sent by city and police officials congratulating each other on how much money they are collecting sandwiched around racist jokes, such as one from November 2008 that said Obama wouldn’t be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”
HAHAHAHAHAHA. Must be his white half that has held the job for six years and counting then, you white-sheet-wearing motherfuckers.
In such an atmosphere, is it any wonder that the African-American community would easily feel that Michael Brown’s killing amounted to a criminal action by Darren Wilson, and would not hesitate to let the authorities know it? Is it any wonder the place was such a powder keg?
Expect the connection between the distrust of authorities that all this abuse had created among Ferguson’s African-Americans, their angry reaction to the shooting of an unarmed teenager and demands that someone, anyone other than the Ferguson PD investigate it, go right over the heads of, or at a minimum be played down by, the nimrod conservatives who are always such civil libertarians as long as the right people are feeling oppressed. Like in this charming Twitter thread full of idiots who seem to think the DOJ only investigated Ferguson to save face, or something.
No, authorities did not know “from the jump” that Wilson acted appropriately. What they knew was that a white cop had shot a black kid and that the black residents of Ferguson alleged that this act fit a pattern of treating the city’s black population as sub-humans undeserving of the rights granted to them by law. So they investigated a) to see if Wilson’s act, in that context, was egregious enough to warrant prosecution; and b) to see if the larger pattern of misconduct by the civic authorities in Ferguson created an atmosphere so toxic that officer could do all sorts of crazy, repressive shit, up to and including shooting an unarmed black kid, and not have to fear facing any legal repercussions. The answers appear to be a) no, and b) oh hell fucking yes.
Even if Darren Wilson’s actions were justifiable, he benefited from a system where he got to be one of the oppressors instead of one of the oppressed. Too bad about his life being ruined, we guess, if your definition of ruined is that he had to give up being a cop but still got to marry his fiancé, have a kid, get half a million dollars thrown at him by total strangers on the Internet, and oh yeah, not go to prison. Michael Brown, whatever his own faults at the age of 18, also deserved that chance.