U.S. Justice Report Finds Blatant Pattern of Racial Bias in Policing in Ferguson

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to release a report this week blasting police in Ferguson, Mo. for discriminatory traffic stops of African-Americans that have created years of racial tension in the small midwestern town, the New York Times reports.


Officials briefed on the report say it will criticize the city for its disproportionate ticketing and arrest-rates of African-American motorists. People who cannot afford to pay their fines are often imprisoned. Traffic fines are the second-largest source of revenue for Ferguson after sales tax. The Justice Department’s report is expected to say that this provides local police the incentive to unfairly target black drivers during stops.

Although African-Americans make up just 63 percent of the city’s population, they were stopped 86 percent of the time in 2013. During those stops, black drivers were twice as likely to be searched, even though white drivers were more likely to have some kind of contraband on them. The report will force the city of Ferguson negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department or face being sued on civil rights charges. 

Besides focusing on the the racist traffic stops, the report on the Ferguson Police Department will address the broader context of the anger and frustration that has mounted over the years in a mostly black city governed by a mostly white City Hall and police department.

Investigators do not have to prove that Ferguson officials were motivated by racial animus or prove that police specifically targeted black drivers. They simply need to demonstrate that policing had a “disparate impact” on African-Americans and that it could have been avoided.

The report was initiated not long after unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson in August. The Justice Department investigated the shooting and declined to file civil rights charges in the case and cleared Officer Wilson of any wrongdoing.

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