The U.S. Department of Justice has sued the city of Ferguson, Missouri, the embattled Saint Louis suburb with a history of racially-biased policing, after the city rejected key parts of a Justice Department plan to reform policing in the city.
Ferguson, Missouri, a city of about 12,000 people in Saint Louis’ northern suburbs, became the focus of a national conversation about police brutality, overzealous policing, and racism in August, 2014. After Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson, sometimes-violent protests erupted in the city, and gripped the area for weeks and even months afterwards.
— POLITICO (@politico) February 10, 2016
After Brown’s killing, a Justice Department investigation found evidence of “systemic and systematic” patterns of racial profiling and disproportionate use of force against the city’s minority residents. Though black residents account for 67 percent of the city’s population, they accounted for 88 percent of all incidents in which a Ferguson officer used force. They made up 90 percent of the Feguson Police Department’s tickets for “nuisance” violations, such as “manner of walking in roadway” and “disturbing the peace.”
Further, the investigation found that the city largely target its minority residents for ticketing for nuisance offenses, in order to collect revenue for the city’s coffers — what the Justice Department termed “policing for profit.”
Officer Wilson was never charged with any crimes in connection with the shooting, and has since gone into hiding.
As the Guardian reports, following the scathing Justice Department report, city officials in Ferguson and the Department of Justice were involved in “painstaking” months-long negotiations to reach an agreement to reform the city’s policing. Although Ferguson’s negotiating team had agreed to the reform package, on Tuesday, the city council voted to reject several portions of the agreement.
Specifically, Ferguson rejected certain requirements that would cost the city money. One such demand was to pay officers higher salaries — the Justice Department believes that the higher salaries would attract better officers to the city — minority officers, in particular. Another demand required the city to pay a federal monitor to oversee the city’s reforms.
— NPR (@NPR) February 11, 2016
Freguson rejected both proposals on the basis that they would cost the city too much money — $3.7 million in the first year alone, with subsequent years costing between $1.5 and $2.0 million per year. The city’s annual budget is $14.5 million, and is already suffering after the city has cut back significantly on raising money through nuisance tickets.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that, in response to Ferguson’s rejection of key parts of the agreement, they were left with no choice but to sue. Attorney General Loretta Lynch explains as follows.
“The residents of Ferguson have waited nearly a year for their city to adopt an agreement that would protect their rights and keep them safe. They have waited nearly a year for their police department to accept rules that would ensure their constitutional rights… They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer… I think that the city of Ferguson had a real opportunity here to step forward, and instead they’ve chosen to turn backwards… They’ve chosen to live in the past, and they’ve chosen to adopt a means of really ignoring the voices of their citizens, they’re choosing to ignore the complaints of their citizens.”
Ferguson city officials have confirmed that they’re aware of the suit, but have declined to comment.
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