Ferguson's long, twisted history of racial discrimination highlighted in Justice Department report

The investigation was launched in response to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown

Published March 2, 2015 4:43PM (EST)

Police officers point their weapons at demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, August 18, 2014.                                             (Reuters/Joshua Lott)
Police officers point their weapons at demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, August 18, 2014. (Reuters/Joshua Lott)

The Justice Department is nearing the end of an investigation into the Ferguson Police Department following the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown last summer at the hands of white cop Darren Wilson. The report reveals an unsettling pattern of racial discrimination, specifically, the use of discriminatory traffic stops, for a number of years.

The New York Times' Matt Apuzzo reports:

Blacks accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops in 2013 but make up 63 percent of the population, according to the most recent data published by the Missouri attorney general. And once they were stopped, black drivers were twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband.

For people in Ferguson who cannot afford to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops can become yearslong ordeals, with repeated imprisonments because of mounting fines. Such fines are the city's second-largest source of revenue after sales tax. Federal investigators say that has provided a financial incentive to continue law enforcement policies that unfairly target African-Americans.

The release of the report will be the first step to fixing the city's broken policies. As Slate's Josh Voorhees explains, Ferguson officials will have the option of entering something called a "consent decree" in which they implement a set of reforms mandated by the federal government, or the city can refuse, a move which will likely be met with a federal civil rights lawsuit.

By Joanna Rothkopf

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Ferguson Michael Brown Police Racial Discrimination