Chat Recap: Justice Department's Ferguson Policing Report
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On Wednesday, the Department of Justice issued a scathing report about the Ferguson, Mo. police department, citing evidence of "clear racial disparities that adversely impact African-Americans." These disparities in arrests, vehicle stops and the use of force, the report contends, led to a lack of trust in police and courts in the city.
The Justice Department also released a report that day saying it found no reliable evidence to disprove the testimony of former officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown last summer. The reports garnered reaction from around the country and world.
NPR's Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson and St. Louis Public Radio Race and Culture Reporter Emanuele Berry covered the reports and the reaction to them. You can hear some of Carrie's reporting on policing in Ferguson from Morning Editionand All Things Considered and Emanuele's from Morning Edition and St. Louis Public Radio.
They answered questions about the reports and community reaction over at Reddit on Friday. Here are some highlights from the chat:
On whether the level of racism in the Ferguson police department is "common or an outlier"
Carrie Johnson: President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder both say Ferguson is actually not an outlier, that if you look at many police departments all over the country, you will find evidence of systemic disparities in ticketing and arrests of minorities. DOJ has investigated about 20 law enforcement agencies since Obama took office for alleged excessive force or otherwise unconstitutional policing.
Emanuele Berry: Many people in the St. Louis region would say no. St. Louis County has 90 different municipalities, many have their own police departments. I've heard complaints about PD's and municipal courts throughout the county. Some people I spoke with were initially surprised that these events took place in Ferguson, because they say police are "worse" in other towns.
On how the Justice Department handled conflicting witness testimony and other elements of the state grand jury proceedings
CJ: Rather than go over the state grand jury prosecution with a fine-toothed comb, the federal prosecutors at Justice say they did an independent analysis of physical evidence and interviewed 100 people who said they were eyewitnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown. Top aides to Attorney General Eric Holder said he had privately been very critical of the county prosecutor, but very little of that second-guessing showed up in the DOJ report. That federal report focuses on whether civil rights prosecutors could find any evidence to disprove Officer Darren Wilson had reason to fear for his safety—and they came up with nothing. Many of those witnesses, Justice said, were unreliable and some recanted their testimony that Michael Brown had his hands up, as if to surrender.
On the use of body cameras
CJ: Like so many technologies — it depends on how those body worn cameras are actually used by police. There are some big privacy considerations about the images of entirely innocent people picked up by the cameras, how the images are stored and for how long they are saved. The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing reported this week the cameras can be useful, but they're not a cure-all (see page 31-32). Here's a link to the report: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/Interim_TF_Report.pdf
On the questions people don't ask them about Ferguson
EB: What it's like in Ferguson? And I say that because I think most people have a completely different picture of the town, then what it really is. It's a small suburb, with nice parks and houses. Most of the scenes of fire and protest happened on two streets. So the images that have come to represent Ferguson only show about two miles of the the city.
On what surprised them most about the Justice Department's report
CJ: Those emails are really toxic and awful — comparing the president to a "chimpanzee" and saying he won't serve a full term because "what black man holds a steady job for four years?" And they were written by people in the Ferguson police with supervisory authority!
On actions that have been taken by the Ferguson police to "restore trust" between the citizens and the police department.
EB: In a press conference on Wednesday, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles mentioned several efforts being made by the city, including changes to the municipal court system, recruiting minority police officers and working to build a citizen oversight board.
There have also been local efforts to reform the municipal court system.
However, all of this is all still in a talking/planning phase.
On how Ferguson differed from other justice cases they've covered
CJ: I've been covering law and law enforcement for a long time now and I don't remember a time when so much of the country was interested in having a conversation about police and community relations. The deaths in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, and Los Angeles have focused attention on the issues in an important if tragic way. I'm going to be really interested to watch if political leaders and law enforcement roll up their sleeves and do the hard work to make changes.
Read the entire chat here.
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