Following the events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer in which a white police officer fatally shot an 18-year-old boy of color, the Department of Justice (DOJ) initiated an investigation of the police force residing in Ferguson. The report and findings of its investigation were released this month. According to the DOJ, investigators found violations of the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. For those who aren’t familiar with our Constitution, those are essentially our civil rights. The findings of this investigation pointed to some obvious and some not-so-obvious issues that lie at the core of the issue in the relationship between the police force and civilians in Ferguson. Attorney General Eric Holder stated in the original report that the community was “…deeply polarized, and where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents.” While this might have seemed obvious from the initial outbreak as a result of the shooting, it’s hopeful to see it noted by the DOJ.
On the other hand, the violations of the Fourth Amendment in which unwarranted search and seizures were occurring is troubling alone. Officers were also using unreasonable force against people. This long list of violations and unethical practices of the police and Ferguson Municipal Court includes interfering with free expression (violating the First Amendment) and prioritizing revenue over public safety, which influenced court practices (violating the Fourteenth Amendment). Said practices disproportionately affect African Americans, which, according the DOJ, is avoidable. Now, the DOJ is requiring the leaders in Ferguson to take action. This report has resulted in several firings and resignations, some of which include two police officers, a municipal judge and a city clerk, according to CBS News. Though there will be reform and needed oversight for the city, this is the first step in the just direction.
It’s truly a shame to think that Ferguson officials were not only engaging in such horrible behavior but also composing emails (which, keep in mind, what you put online never goes away) with racial slurs and biases. According to The Huffington Post, one example includes President Barack Obama being referred to as a chimpanzee. Unfortunately, it seems that we are regressing in our racial boundaries that still are apparent in our country. The lines between the officials and civilians are only deepening with time. While one can only be optimistic to think that the implications of the DOJ’s report will be positive ones, it doesn’t seem likely. There are still riots and news stories of police officials using unwarranted force. However, it is worthwhile to play devil’s advocate in this scenario. The Huffington Post also reports that “many officers have no tools for de-escalating emotionally charged scenes.” So what does this imply?
It is a step forward that the DOJ performed a conclusive investigation into the activity in Ferguson. However, it’s meaningless unless something comes from it. If the police lack the training to handle “emotionally charged scenes,” then train them. If police officers, who are supposed to be role models and representatives of the order of our country, cannot wrap their heads around acceptance of everyone despite the color of their skin, fire them. Change needs to come from this event and Ferguson needs to lead by example. Otherwise, the relationship between the police officials and the masses will only continue to worsen.
March 27, 2015.