Every one is talking about the Justice Department’s report on the city of Ferguson triggered by the shooting and killing of Black teenager, Michael Brown by White police officer Darren Wilson. Most people had already come to a negative conclusion about the police department but the findings on the entire city and court system were somewhat of a surprise.
The Justice Department basically said the city and the court system treat Blacks unfairly with unlawful stops, searches, traffic tickets, charging high fees, court issued warrants, being put in jail, and using code enforcement to raise money to pay for the operation of the city government. I am going to list some of the statistics so you will understand the impact of this report on Ferguson, a city where 67 percent of the population is African American. Now I cannot fault the elected officials for being elected but I find fault in how they ran the city and employed a police staff that is over 90 percent White with only three Blacks and one White woman. This kind of discrimination in hiring led to a non-community police force which does not live with or understand the people they are supposed to serve and protect.
The evidence is based on the years 2012 to 2014 where 93 percent of the arrests and 85 percent of all traffic stops were of Black people. Blacks were more than twice as likely to be stopped and searched for contraband while 26 percent were less likely to have any contraband found on them as compared to Whites. In other words, Whites were more likely to have something in their possession that was illegal but were not stopped and searched by police.
The Justice Department found that many of the police arrests were listed as “talking back” to police officers or engaging in unlawful protests. This is one reason so many Black parents warn their children that if stopped by law enforcement officers, “keep your hands in plain sight at all times, only answer the question they ask you, do not make any sudden moves when giving information at the officer’s request and don’t ask ‘why did you stop me’ or ‘what is your badge number’ or anything that can be misconstrued as disrespectful.”
Ninety five percent of all “walking in the roadway” citations were given to Blacks. Several years ago we published a story on a young Black man being issued a ticket for walking in the street where there was no sidewalk for any of the residents to use, yet a police officer wrote him up and took him to jail for a parole violation here in San Bernardino. When his mother went to see him, he was in Arrowhead Medical Center with a broken arm and other injuries from a beating given to him by the police.
In Ferguson they found that over 90 percent of the documented police use of force situations involved Black citizens. A few years back I was on the Legal Redress Committee for the San Bernardino Branch of the NAACP because of the numerous police abuse complaints brought to the branch by citizens. The branch even took the issue up with the state and national board of their findings, so Ferguson is not alone with their current issue.
The Department of Justice found in one case a Black woman was issued a single illegal parking violation in 2007 and spent six days in jail, paid $550 in fines and still owed $541. Now I don’t know if our court system is that bad but I know many of our Black and Latino citizens have lost jobs, cars, and their belongings because of minor traffic violations. I know in some cities police stake out schools where undocumented individuals drop off their children for school, then they confiscate their car and don’t allow them to get it out of storage for thirty days. The car would cost too much to retrieve so the tow company would take possession and sell the car.
San Bernardino and other cities use code enforcement of property and buildings as another way to raise money for their general fund to help pay the salaries of employees, yet will not hire citizens from the city that pay the taxes and fines.
Ferguson is a wake-up call for elected officials and citizens who pay the bills only to be abused by the ones who are elected to serve them.
Hardy L. Brown is Publisher Emeritus of the Black Voice News.