What the DOJ report got right about Ferguson

The facts leading to the conclusion that there is a pattern of citizen mistreatment — quite deliberately encouraged by Ferguson’s city governance — are sound

Making apologies for Ferguson is getting harder and harder. After I read the DOJ’s report and recommendations on its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, I find little fault with its conclusions.

As I turned each page of the report, I was ready to be Holder’s critic and see his biased hand in every conclusion. As a researcher, I was ready to question assumptions and statistics. As a staunch defender of police officers, I was ready to point out unrealistic expectations and civilian ignorance. 

In the end, the facts leading to the conclusion that there is a pattern of citizen mistreatment — quite deliberately encouraged by Ferguson’s city governance — are sound.

A Damning Constellation of Facts
By way of critique, I see some argument in some of the anecdotal accounts, but the damning constellation of facts collected leads to some clear patterns. I also see little in the following public comment about accountability of the citizenry for allowing these abuses to continue. 

However, I don’t want to be among those who blithely write off “a pervasive lack of ‘personal responsibility’ among ‘certain segments’ of the community” even though closer examination of that premise is an important part of whatever healing may come. 

But that was not the DOJ mandate.

As a Missouri native with St. Louis connections, I grew up very aware of the prevalent racism in the city. My small town had no African-American subculture that I could tell from the few black families I knew. But even within my lifetime there were many towns posted with “sundown” warnings that no black people were allowed inside the city limits after dark.  

My generation watched the evening news as Dr. King marched, cities burned, and police dogs attacked.  As a boy, I remember an elderly black man stepped off the sidewalk to let me pass in a conditioned deference to a white boy, just before I was going to step aside out of respect for his age. 

It is no surprise that these American experiences cast a shadow over race relations a half century later. I also later learned that race hate was not a one way street.

A Web of Extortion 
What struck me most about the report was not that there was a deliberate attack on black residents, but a deliberate fleecing of citizens to fill city coffers. Given the power differential, the fact that black residents were disproportionately affected as a byproduct of the city’s greed is a natural consequence. 

Indeed, laws were made to be enforced and we use armed government agents for that enforcement — be it robbery or jaywalking. But the structure of due process must be designed with justice in mind, not the clinking of silver. Fines for offenses and warrants for no-shows are for the public good, not for capturing citizens in a web of extortion.

My hope is that citizens will stop the tedious demonstrations and start voting, that all sides can get past the noise and review the fundamental principles of government, and that the officers of Ferguson PD can get the leadership needed to allow them to do the fine work I am confident they truly want to do.

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