What’s the Matter With Ferguson — and Beyond

Police AbuseYesterday, Jenée Desmond-Harris at Vox wrote an excellent overview of the situation, The 6 Most Damning Findings From the DOJ’s Report on Racism in the City of Ferguson. I’m actually glad that we’ve gotten past discussion of Darren Wilson. There is no doubt in my mind that he, like more police officers than most Americans want to admit, is a villain who should never have been allowed to be a police officer. But I don’t think it is just to grab onto him as the ultimate problem. I’m sure that the Ferguson Police Department is filled with officers who would have behaved exactly the same way. So the focus is now where it should be — at least in one place.

The problem, of course, is that we are only looking at Ferguson because Michael Brown was gunned down by a pussy officer who clearly would have been better assigned to checking parking meters. How many other towns have similar problems? Well, certainly Ferguson seems to be an extreme example. Most towns don’t seem to be as bad. But it seems that this is a general problem. You may be aware of a cliche that security guards are particularly aggressive and unreasonable because of their inferiority complex with regard to not being “real” police officers. There is at least some truth to that. Well, I’ve begun to wonder if “real” police officers don’t suffer from something like this with regard to the military.

There was a lot of reporting regarding the militarization of local policing after 9/11. I don’t think the fact that they have tanks is the problem. But it feeds into a kind of fantasy world where the police are always under threat. It’s kind of like Bill O’Reilly claiming to be in war zones when he wasn’t. I’m sure in his mind, he was in war zones. And I’m sure that the police in Ferguson thought they were in a war zone. But there has always been an attitude in police forces that it is them against the rest of us. And clearly, when you have a large majority African American community policed by an overwhelmingly white police force, the situation is so much worse.

Ferguson Policing Was Racist

The specifics about what was (and I assume still is) going on are interesting. Let’s go through each of the six points. The first is, “In Ferguson, race had everything to do with who was stopped by police, and whom they used force against.” Much of the information here is probably stuff you’ve heard before, such as the fact that while 67% of the population was black, 85% of traffic stops were of African Americans. But a couple I hadn’t heard of, like the fact that every time a police dog bit someone, it was an African American. But this one really struck me:

The FPD brought certain charges almost exclusively against African-Americans. For example, in 2013 black residents made up a full 95 percent of manner of walking in roadway charges, and 94 percent of all failure to comply charges.

This reminds me of how the police were known to cite and even arrest hippies in the 1960s for trivial things like spitting. It’s the same thing here. The police hated the hippies then and they hate the African American community now.

It Isn’t Because Blacks Commit More Crime

Just like with the huge discrepancy with cannabis charges between white and black, the report found that blacks were not committing more crime — at least not enough more to explain the racial citation and arrest differences. Here’s an example, “Between 2011 and 2013, African-American drivers got 72 percent of the speeding tickets when radars or laser verification were used, but when tickets were based on officers’ personal observations, they got 80 percent of the tickets.” Not that 72% is close enough to the 67% of the population — although still high. The 80% is not just a fluke.

Police and Municipal Figures Exchanged Racist Email

I guess this is the most salacious of the findings. German Lopez compiled, Here Are 7 Racist Jokes Ferguson Police and Court Officials Made Over Email. Check out this charmer:

A November 2008 email said President Barack Obama won’t be president for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

In 2011, there was an email with President Obama depicted as a chimp. And as far as the investigators could determine, no one was ever even chastised about this. Indeed, many of these email messages were forwarded around the government employees.

Police Arrested People Trying to Help the Injured

This one shouldn’t surprise anyone. When Tamir Rice’s mother ran to him, the Cleveland police threatened to arrest her. In Ferguson, one of the examples involves a guy trying to help his bleeding girlfriend. Instead of helping the woman, the police arrested the man while they waited for an ambulance to arrive. It’s pretty clear that the general attitude is that the Ferguson police consider the community to be made up of a bunch of animals. They have it exactly backwards.

The Department Abused Its Power

This is what we see everywhere. Our constitutional rights really don’t mean anything when we are dealing with the police. If they ask to search you and you won’t let them, they will use this as probable cause and search your car. Or as in once case in Ferguson, just arrest you. Or check out this charming story that sums up a number of problems with the police force:

After telling the officer, “you don’t have a reason to lock me up,” he claims the officer responded: “N*****, I can find something to lock you up on.” When the man responded, “good luck with that,” the officer slammed his face into the wall, and after the man fell to the floor, the officer said, “don’t pass out motherf****r because I’m not carrying you to my car.”

If you doubt that story for a moment, then you haven’t dealt much with the police. This is definitely not specific to Ferguson. The police believe they are above the law.

Follow the Money

As you probably have heard some reporting on before, the city basically used the poorest segment of their community to pay for the city functions via fines and other mechanisms. And this was not just something that happened. This was explicit policy. But what are you going to do? You can’t tax the rich!

This is not just about the death of one person. As Desmond-Harris noted, “Ferguson residents… saw Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Darren Wilson as just one example of the type of racially biased policing that made their city an unjust place for the 2/3 of its residents who are African-American and fueled their distrust of the police department.” Hopefully, this will improve things in Ferguson. But we have the same problems throughout the United States. And most people — white people — don’t want to admit that there is a problem. They just want to see it as this or that bad apple. No. The barrel is rotten and all the apples are poisoned.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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