Column: Ferguson: A ticking time bomb
The recent report released by the Justice Department revealed a sickening pattern of racism in Ferguson’s police force.
Mar. 10, 2015
The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.
On Wednesday, March 4, the U.S. Justice Department released two revealing documents surrounding the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, that took place last year. The first 86-page report was the department’s statement that they would not pursue civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown last August. They claimed that there was not enough evidence to indict Wilson of any crime.
However, in the second 102-page report, the DOJ exposed the Ferguson police department and court system. The report pinned a plethora of allegations on the police force for committing biased and even violent acts of racism against the African-American population in the small town(http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/justice-departments-ferguson-report-resonates-us-29481651?singlePage=true). It found that officers used excessive force on African-Americans and violated their constitutional rights, often without a just cause. However, because of inefficient record keeping and oversight by higher officials, many illegal acts committed by police officers often went overlooked or unquestioned.
This systematic racism has more or less governed how the town has been run for the past few years. The Justice Department called on city officials to either make a drastic change in the way Ferguson handles its police and court departments or face a federal civil rights lawsuit.
This report reveals how and why the situation in Ferguson escalated so rapidly. It is apparent that the social backdrop in which this event took place was just waiting for something to happen that would make the social tensions explode. Ferguson was a ticking time bomb, and the Michael Brown shooting was the perfect ignition. In order to prevent another escalation like the one that just recently took place, Ferguson needs to revamp its police force and court system. The Justice Department’s report discloses frightening statistics and horrifying racist tendencies that call for a new system.
The report found that a disproportionate number of African-Americans are being harassed and arrested by a predominantly white police force in Ferguson. According to The New York Times, with a population that is 67 percent black, African-Americans in Ferguson account for 93 percent of the town’s arrests, 90 percent of tickets given, 92 percent of cases with warrants and 88 percent of cases where a police officer uses force. A black motorist is proven to be twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white motorists more often revealed drugs and contraband.
These facts are highly disappointing because they uncover acts of racism in a seemingly objective and unbiased government force. In one case that the report mentions, a man who was cooling off in his car after playing basketball in a public park in 2012, was accused of being a pedophile by an officer. He was arrested at gunpoint and incriminated with eight charges after he asserted his constitutional right of not consenting to the officer’s wish to search his car.
One of the most surprising allegations that this report pointed out was how the police force is using people as sources of revenue. City officials encouraged the police department to target citizens, mainly African-Americans, with tickets to increase the city’s revenue. The police officers would compete with each other to determine who could issue the most citations in a single stop. The city was using the mistakes of their citizens to increase its own moneymaking agenda. In one case that the report cited,, a woman was originally charged $151 for two parking tickets. She was forced to pay $550, and nearly seven years later, she still owes $541.
The police force and court system are not only concerned with making money off of the original tickets; they want to make money from late fines and missed court appearances as well. For this reason, they make it very difficult for people to pay their fines and appear in court by sending out wrong court dates and being unclear about how much one owes or when they owe it.
Although the Justice Department may have found that Wilson should not be charged, Ferguson and its police force are far from innocent. The city has a lot to change to work as an orderly and just system. The present racism that has been found within the city’s governmental structure cannot be tolerated any longer. It is time for a change, and it needs to happen quickly.