Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Striving for fairness in Ferguson and beyond

By Isaac Simon

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(Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

(Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

The report released by the Justice Department last week regarding the unfair targeting of African Americans by the Ferguson Police Department raises questions about the amount of power held by law enforcement.

While some will continue to disagree and argue that the case of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are isolated incidents, not representative of any larger racial motives, the racism of the Ferguson Police Department cannot be overlooked.

One email from one Ferguson police officer to another stated that Barack Obama would not hold office for long, saying, “What black man holds a steady job for four years?” Another report, this one from June 2012, cited a man who, at the time, was trying to lobby the government to give his dogs welfare. His reasoning: “mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English, and have no friggin clue who their Daddies are.”

Not only were these emails sent during regular business hours when both parties involved were on duty, but none of these messages were flagged as inappropriate or reported to higher officers of authority. Instead, “the emails were usually forwarded along to others.”

What is equally troubling is that this rise in police enforcement is not in response to a rise in crime. This unconstitutional policing that has been documented is a direct result of the need for revenue.

In Ferguson, the unemployment rate is twice as high for African Americans as it is for whites – currently at a dismal 16 percent compared to 8.4 percent. Meanwhile, 25 percent of African Americans live below the poverty line. Of that 25 percent, less than half have access to broadband internet and other modes of communication, utilities which for most people are common place.

Within the region, African Americans make up 67 percent of the total population. Between 2012 and 2014, blacks made up 85 percent of the traffic stops, and 92 percent of cases that received warrants. African Americans also make up 90 percent of citations and 93 percent of arrests. All of this perpetrated against a race whose population composes less than 70 percent of the city.

In Ferguson, African Americans are held to a different standard. Blacks are, as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “twice as likely to be searched during a stop, twice as likely to receive a citation when stopped, and twice as likely to be arrested during the stop.” The problem is that blacks are 26 percent less likely to be caught obtaining contraband than whites, a troubling statistic that in no way reflects the actions of the Ferguson Police Department.

Racism was used as means to generate revenue. For 2015, it is projected that $13.26 million will be collected in the form of general fund revenues. Of the anticipated $13 million, $3.29 of it is expected to come from “fine and fee revenues.” The amount of general fund revenue from fees and fines has increased over time and now exceeds the 10 percent threshold, a troubling statistic in a city strapped for cash.

General fund revenue as a portion of the city budget remained stagnant at 12 percent from 2010 to 2011 but it rose to 18 percent in 2012 and to 23 percent in 2014. It is important to note that not only are these numbers rising, but this increase is a result of competition amongst members of the police department, in which they are encouraged to increase revenue through fines and fees. An increase in traffic fines and solicitations often translates into greater respect amongst fellow officers. “Wonderful” is how one city manager responded to the statistics.

African Americans have fallen victim to unfair discrimination in Ferguson. This discriminatory force comes in the form of Tasers and dogs which are used against African Americans in unnecessary circumstances. In one specific instance, an officer deemed one African American as suspicious because he was walking away from law enforcement. He stopped the man in his tracks, performed a pat down and then proceeded to frisk him. The pat down concluded that the man was not carrying any weapons proving that the officers ‘suspicion’ was misplaced. When the man heard the dispatcher comment on his, “outstanding warrants,”—a term that is completely ambiguous because the kind of warrant, whether it be failure to pay a fine or “something more serious” remained unclear—he ran away. The officer then proceeded to release his dog which bit the man. Ironically enough, the officer’s justification for releasing the dog was the fear that he was carrying a weapon. This of course defeated the purpose of the pat down. This situation, much like other situations, depicts law enforcement exercising its own power in unjust ways.

Members of the Ferguson police force had this to say when they met with federal investigators: “Several Ferguson officials told us during our investigation that it is a lack of ‘personal responsibility’ among African American members of the Ferguson community that causes African Americans to experience disproportionate harm under Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement. Our investigation suggests that this explanation is at odd with the facts.”

With a statement like this it is clear that the police department stands by its actions and its record of injustice. Not only do the Ferguson police fail to express remorse, but they manage to take their explanation one step further: blaming the African American community for the problems of the inner city.

In the case of Brown, officer Darren Wilson was acquitted before he could stand trial. It also didn’t help that the prosecution came to argue on behalf of Wilson’s defense. While ‘hands up, don’t shoot!’ has panned itself into a civil rights anthem for the 21st century, the distasteful comments from law enforcement like the one depicted above only add fuel to the fire.

The police department’s collective decision to defend its policies while still managing to blame African Americans is in no way unique. When a grand jury declined to indict the NYPD officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner, Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said that officer Pantaleo was, “a model of what we want a police officer to be.” These disheartening comments do not change the reality we live in, nor does they allow justice to prevail in an unjust society.

In Ferguson, race has become a means of raising revenue. The police have become infallible, playing by a separate set of rules that places them above the law they took an oath to enforce.

Isaac Simon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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