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DOJ releases report finding racism in Ferguson police

The Justice Department released Wednesday the report of its investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, finding that officers regularly violated the constitutional rights of black citizens.

The report found that black residents were unfairly targeted for arrests, citations and the use of force. Investigators found that the police department had a pattern of making unconstitutional stops, as well as violating citizens’ First Amendment rights.

{mosads}The DOJ report said those actions were motivated in part by racial biases held by police and court officials.

“As detailed in our report, this investigation found a community that was deeply polarized, and where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

The report paints a picture of policing practices that systemically singled out African-Americans in several ways.

In Ferguson, black residents account for about two-thirds of the population — but were subject to police attention at much higher levels.

Eighty-five percent of traffic stops over the last two years were of black drivers, the investigation found. Though they were more than twice as likely to be searched during a stop, they were 26 percent less likely to be found carrying contraband.

Many residents were unable to pay the fines attached to the traffic stops, trapping them in the justice system.

Blacks were also the target of 88 percent of the Ferguson Police Department’s use of force incidents from 2010 to 2014.

The disparities were wider in regard to minor charges. Ninety-five percent of all “manner of walking” charges, akin to jaywalking violations, were filed against African-Americans.

The report also sheds more light on racial bias within the department — including several emails sent by police and municipal court officials that included racial jokes.

An email in 2011 showed President Obama as a “chimpanzee,” the report said. Another from later that year “included a photo of a bare-chested group of dancing women, apparently in Africa, with the caption, ‘Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.’ ”

The report found that, on multiple occasions, officers had used racial slurs when dealing with black residents.

One African-American man told investigators that last year, he had been in an argument that resulted in the police arriving at his apartment. An officer pulled him out of the apartment.

The man said he told the officer, “you don’t have a reason to lock me up.”

The officer used a racial slur, adding “I can find something to lock you up on,” according to the account.

“Good luck with that,” the African-American man told the officer, who then “slammed” his face into a wall, the report said.

The Justice Department also found white city officials frequently used their power to help friends and relatives get out of tickets issued for traffic violations.

“Even as Ferguson City officials maintain the harmful stereotype that black individuals lack personal responsibility — and continue to cite this lack of personal responsibility as the cause of the disparate impact of Ferguson’s practices — white City officials condone a striking lack of personal responsibility among themselves and their friends,” the department said in the report.

The findings had been expected. In recent days, various media outlets published some details of the investigation.

The Justice Department will now seek to enter into a court-enforceable agreement with the city to address those policing practices.

“Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action,” Holder said in a statement.

The report is the final investigation into a police department’s civil rights record under Attorney General Eric Holder. He has aggressively pursued departments for using excessive force or violating the civil rights of the citizens they are protecting.

The Ferguson Police Department gained national attention after a white officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, last summer.

The shooting sparked often violent protests and a national debate over policing and racial bias.

Earlier Wednesday, the DOJ announced it would not file civil rights charges against Wilson, citing the high standard needed for such prosecutions.

— This story was updated at 2:52 p.m.

Tags Eric Holder Michelle Obama

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