Posted at ST. Louis American on February 25, 2016
Loretta Lynch, head of the Department of Justice, responded to Ferguson city officials with a law suit and a provocative statement. Claiming the DOJ changes would be too costly to the city, Ferguson city officials chose to spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars to fight the recommended changes, dollars that could go towards implementing a more just course for the municipality.
Remarking that Ferguson had missed an opportunity to step forward, Lynch declared the city had instead “turned backwards” and “chosen to live in the past.”
The unanimous decision by the City Council reneged on an agreement with the DOJ that was months in the making. The about-face was an arrogant indication that city officials were steadfastly committed to past practices and policies of racial discrimination, though they claim exactly the contrary – that the city has already instituted reforms.
The city’s changes in police and court procedures made since the Brown shooting (like the weak civilian oversight board) have been seen by most observers as largely superficial and inadequate given the persistent and protracted racism in Ferguson.
The negotiated agreement came after a blistering report by the DOJ released after the police killing of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014. The DOJ found widespread abuses by the police department including illegal stops, searches and arrests. There was also issues of disproportionate use of canine dogs against black people (even children), retaliation for filing or threatening to file reports against police, and the arbitrary use of stun guns.
Ferguson has violated the constitutional rights of its majority-black population—the First, Fourth and 14 Amendments. The DOJ has documented that African Americans were treated like second class citizens in Ferguson.
The current line-up of city officials and many employees had decades of knowledge regarding the police department’s terrorizing of black folks and the oppressive court system that used them as ATM machines. At any time these public servants could have intervened on the side of justice. Their actions may have even averted the police killing of an unarmed teen and a community uprising. It definitely would’ve made the intervention of the DOJ unlikely. Now that their racist patterns have been exposed, there is still no genuine effort to tackle the monster of white supremacy.
This is why I think city officials and some Ferguson residents are narrow in their thinking. This ugly situation is not just about Ferguson and its residents. The victimization of citizens goes well beyond those who physically live there. It’s also about the folks who have to come to and through Ferguson who have suffered and who have a vested interest in Ferguson getting its house in order.
Thousands participated in the Ferguson Commission process to dialogue about the racism plaguing Ferguson and other North County municipalities. The idea was to go forward on the “Path toward Racial Equality,” as the commission’s report was entitled. Thousands more moved to make officials accountable during the Radical Reconciliation activities last fall. It’s time to re-engage and ramp up our efforts to make the city responsible for its crimes and to work in earnest to rectify the serious violations of civil liberties along with constitutional and human rights.
There is a sentiment by some white Ferguson residents that they’d rather lose their city than concede to the DOJ demands. That’s an unfortunate sentiment – but it is an option.