It took over a year to craft an agreement between the city of Ferguson and the Department of Justice regarding a pervasive and well documented history of racially motivated arrest practices of the Ferguson Police Department. It took just one vote to derail the entire process.
Just one day after the Ferguson City Council made the poorly thought out decision to "revise" an agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) at the 11th hour, the DOJ filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the city. The complaint accuses Ferguson of "routinely violating residents' rights and misusing law enforcement to generate revenue" — a practice that the DOJ alleges was "ongoing and pervasive."
Attorney General Loretta Lynch left the DOJ "no choice" but to file a civil rights lawsuit, reports Yahoo News.
"The residents of Ferguson have waited nearly a year for the city to adopt an agreement that would protect their rights and keep them safe. ... They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer. Ferguson leaders had a real opportunity here to step forward, and they've chosen to step backward"
Ferguson has been at the epicenter of the push for police reform in the face of numerous incidents of black men being gunned down and killed by white police officers. Michael Brown, an 18 year old unarmed black man, was shot and killed by white Police Officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. A grand jury and the Justice Department declined to prosecute Officer Wilson.
The killing of Michael Brown was one of the cases that drew massive attention of the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement, which held protests in Ferguson following the decision to not pursue charges against Officer Wilson. The phrase "hands up, don't shoot" has become the battle cry of the BLM movement and photos and videos of the protests show large crowds holding signs up that echo that statement.
Even though the Justice Department declined to pursue charges against Officer Wilson personally, they did open an investigation into the Ferguson Police Department to look into allegations of pervasive discriminatory treatment of black and poor residents of the community. Their investigation showed a "a profit-driven municipal court system" and they initiated discussions with the city leaders to address numerous issues.
The city agreed to work with the Justice Department but changed their mind after reviewing the costs, even after reaching an agreement on critical changes in January of 2016. An evaluation of the agreement determined that it would cost the city nearly $4 million dollars to make the revisions in just the first year alone. So, Ferguson decided that pushing the DOJ into a costly legal battle was a better option than, you know, fixing their broken, racist, corrupt police force. Seems about right.
The council decided to take the incredibly stupid move of doing the equivalent of flipping the bird to the DOJ by voting 6-0 to adopt the deal, but with seven amendments. One of the items they patently refuse to do involves something incredibly critical to the whole agreement - raising police salaries to attract more qualified candidates and to hire more minority officers. This is something that Ferguson flat out does not want to do.
In an effort to stop the inevitable lawsuit, the leaders of Ferguson said they were "willing" to sit down with the DOJ to discuss a new agreement. Too bad they had that chance for a whole year prior and decided at the last minute to burn it all to the ground, taunting the DOJ to come at them with a lawsuit. Guess what? They got what they asked for.
Yahoo News reports that within hours of the vote to flat out burn up the agreement, the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights division, Vanita Gupta, said that the Department would take "the necessary legal actions" to ensure compliance with all federal laws. Challenge accepted, Ferguson.
For those who have kept up with the news out of Ferguson, this sort of behavior is not shocking. The city appeared to be divided completely upon racial and socioeconomic lines following Michael Ferguson's death. The police chief never wavered in his support of Officer Wilson, even in the face of witness statements contradicting what his own officer told him. After months of investigation into his Departments racially motivated and discriminatory practices, Chief Jackson resigned and an interim police chief was appointed for a six month period. Oh, and he was black.
Who knows how this will eventually play out. More than likely. Ferguson will reconsider their untenable stance and come to recognize that the only way they can avoid significant legal misery will be to come to an agreement with the Justice Department, and soon.
The big question is - will Ferguson ever be a city that treats all residents equally? Will this agreement have a lasting impact or is it just putting a band-aid on a broken arm?