Justice Department: Ferguson violated blacks' civil rights repeatedly.

Justice Department: Ferguson Police Biased Against Blacks, Scornful of Constitutional Rights

Justice Department: Ferguson Police Biased Against Blacks, Scornful of Constitutional Rights

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March 3 2015 3:20 PM

Justice Department: Ferguson Police Biased Against Blacks, Scornful of Constitutional Rights

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The Ferguson Police Department seems unaware of the First Amendment. Also the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Ferguson Police Department is not having a good week. On Monday, Justice Department officials provided an early peek at a new report that accuses Ferguson officers of routinely abusing their authority and disproportionately targeting black citizens. Now that report has been released—and the conclusions it draws are absolutely devastating. From the New York Times:

The Justice Department, which opened its investigation after a white Ferguson police officer shot and killed a black teenager last summer, says the discrimination was fueled in part by racial stereotypes held by city officials. Investigators say the officials made racist jokes about blacks on their city email accounts. ...
[O]ver the past two years, African-Americans made up about two-thirds of the city’s population but accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of citations, 93 percent of arrests and 88 percent of cases in which the police used force.
Black motorists were twice as likely as whites to be searched but less likely to be found in possession of contraband such as drugs or guns.
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One joke that was widely shared between municipal email accounts quipped that then-candidate Barack Obama would not remain in the presidency for long because "what black man holds a steady job for four years." Another popular joke spread by email said that black women who receive refunds for abortions get a credit from "Crimestoppers." These noxiously racist attitudes clearly carried over into the justice system. From MSNBC:

Blacks in Ferguson were 68% less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by the Municipal Judge and were disproportionately likely to have a warrant issued against them, according to the report. As recently as 2013, 96% of the people who were arrested on an outstanding warrant were black.
But even more than the treatment they received once stopped, the Justice Department’s report found that blacks were used in the criminal justice system to buoy the city’s economy and balance its budget. The practices uncovered by federal investigators have violated residents’ Constitutional Rights of due process and equal protection under the law.
The DOJ’s report found that blacks were also subject to unfair stops and arrest for minor offenses like “manner of walking” in a roadway.

As my colleague Josh Voorhees explained Monday, the Justice Department will likely use this report to pressure local officials to enter a “consent decree,” requiring them to cooperate with the feds to reform their practices. If Ferguson refuses to play nice, the Justice Department will almost certainly launch a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers the law and LGBTQ issues.