THE US Justice Department is currently looking into a wide civil rights investigation of the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, following recent events of the Michael Brown shooting case and the ongoing street riots in August. The source, an anonymous person who was “briefed on the matter,” said a full investigation would be officially announced this week.
The St. Louis suburb has already been informed of the inquiry by Justice Dept. officials. Local activists and community leaders are glad for and welcome the government’s decision. The full investigation, according to Associated Press, will look at Ferguson police practices of past years, including patterns of arrests, stops, and use-of-force incidents, as well as regular officer training.
The news comes in light of the ongoing investigation for the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old who was gunned down by a white police officer on Aug. 9th following a scuffle on a local street. Witnesses claim they saw Brown’s arms go up in surrender before shots were fired. A local grand jury is investigating the shooting, which sparked unrest and a series of riots for two weeks all over Ferguson. The armed police officer, Darren Wilson, has since been in hiding.
However, many agree that the new investigation by the Justice Department will go beyond the case of Michael Brown. His death and the Ferguson riots, for instance, sparked a national debate about the police treatment of minorities, prompting larger government agencies to take a closer look at city policing tactics and civil rights practices.
“We’ve welcomed anybody to take a look at our actions in the past several years. If the Department of Justice feels that they can shed light on this, we hope that we will have an opportunity to tell our side of the story,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said.
Police Chief Tom Jackson was also welcoming of the federal investigation, commenting on the public’s negative view of his officers.
“It’s an unfortunate image, because we’ve done an excellent job of policing this community and we continue to police the community every day,” Jackson told NBC News. “Our relationship with the community is excellent.”
The police department in Ferguson is predominantly white, with a rough 11% of black officers even though the town itself is about 70% black. Many of the town’s black residents accuse the department of failing to represent Ferguson’s racial diversity. Additionally, Ferguson police have been involved in a handful of recent lawsuits claiming an excessive use of force.
The Justice Department—which routinely investigates police departments when there are allegations of an excessive use-of-force, racial bias, or other similar problems—says it has launched more than twice as many investigations into local polices in the past five years as ever before. Both departments work out a detailed agreement to encourage significant changes to problematic policies, sometimes ending in a “consent decree” which lays out any new rules the local department must follow.
The inquiry into Ferguson’s P.D. is likely to be one of the biggest in Missouri history.
(With reports from Associated Press and NBC News.)
(LA Weekend September 6-9, 2014 Sec. A pg.7)