A Justice Department investigation launched amid allegations the Ferguson, Mo. police department grossly violated civil rights isn’t complete, but according to officials, the report is expected to fault the department for “disproportionately ticketing and arresting African-Americans” over the years.
According to the report, the racially biased traffic stops intensified years of racial animosity in the Missouri suburb. Those racial tensions imploded last summer after the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown Jr. at the hands of a Ferguson police officer. Shortly after, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the investigation to examine the police department’s alleged violations.
Officials tell the New York Times that the report will force Ferguson authorities to negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department, or risk facing a lawsuit on civil rights charges for the violations detailed below:
While the Justice Department’s exact findings are not yet known, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who is expected to leave office in the next few weeks, and other officials have said publicly that their investigation has focused on the use of excessive force and the treatment of prisoners in local jails as well as the traffic stops.
Blacks accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops in 2013 but make up 63 percent of the population, according to the most recent data published by the Missouri attorney general. And once they were stopped, black drivers were twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband.
The report also suggests that officials relied on the fines from ticketing and arresting African-Americans to balance the city’s budget.
For people in Ferguson who cannot afford to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops can become yearslong ordeals, with repeated imprisonments because of mounting fines. Such fines are the city’s second-largest source of revenue after sales tax. Federal investigators say that has provided a financial incentive to continue law enforcement policies that unfairly target African-Americans.
Ferguson officials have remained largely mum about the highly anticipated report, but Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III has criticized Holder for suggesting change was needed in the police department, asking why the DOJ “allowed whatever they think is happening to continue to happen for six months if that’s the case?”
According to the New York Times, investigators only have to prove that the policies had a “disparate impact” on African-Americans that could be avoided, not that the tactics were “racially motivated.”
The report, also set to include details about a racist joke circulated by email among city officials, is expected to be released as early as this week.