AFRICANGLOBE – “The harms of Ferguson’s police and court practices are borne disproportionately by African Americans, and there is evidence that this is due in part to the intentional discrimination on the basis of race,” concluded a damning investigation published by the US department of justice on Wednesday.
The report, a stinging indictment of the criminal justice system in a small city at the centre of national and international focus since the fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August last year, identified systemic failings in a number of areas.
It described the police department’s routine overuse of force, unlawful arrests, and a municipal court system designed to collect funds instead of serving justice impartially.
Behind each of these broad observations lies human stories: anonymous Black men, women and children who had their rights violated by law enforcement officials in Ferguson.
Here are just five examples included in the report:
The boy mauled by a police dog
In 2011, a 14-year-old Black boy was mauled by a police dog handled by a Ferguson officer while he waited for friends in an abandoned house.
According to the police account of the incident, the boy was found hiding in a storage unit by the officer and refused to comply. But the boy, who was interviewed by investigators, provided a dramatically different account. He says he was given no warning before the attack, and was instead chased down by the dog, who first bit his ankle and then went for his face, but was parried by his left arm, which took the bite.
The boy claimed that police officers then struck him on the ground, with one “putting a boot on the side of his head”.
“He recalled the officers laughing about the incident afterward,” the report states.
There was not sufficient documentation to back up the boy’s account, but investigators argued that the deployment of the dog was an overuse of force as officers had no reason to suspect the teenager was armed, and that his only offence could have been trespassing.
Investigators found that in every police dog bite incident where race was recorded, the victim was Black.
The woman financially crippled by a parking fine
In 2007, a Black woman parked her car illegally. Seven years later she has still been unable to pay the fines and has spent time in jail.
The woman, who the report states “experienced financial difficulties and periods of homelessness over several years” was charged with seven separate failure to appear offences after missing court dates or fine payments following the initial infringement. Each of these resulted in new fines and arrest warrants.
“From 2007 to 2014, the woman was arrested twice, spent six days in jail, and paid $550 to the court for the events stemming from this single instance of illegal parking,” the report notes.
She attempted to pay back in small installments – $25 and $50 at a time – but the court refused to accept anything less than the full payment. Eventually, the court relented and she is now described as making regular payments.
“As of December 2014, over seven years later, despite initially owing a $151 fine and having already paid $550, still owed $541,” the report states.
In 2013, the municipal court issued over 9,000 warrants on cases mostly involving minor infringements such as parking infractions.
“The court’s practices,” says the report, “impose unnecessary harm, overwhelmingly on African-American individuals, and run counter to public safety.”
The man accused of paedophilia with no probable cause
In 2012, a 32-year-old Black man was arrested by an officer as he sat in his car cooling off after a basketball game in Ferguson public park. The officer demanded to see identification documents and accused the man of being a paedophile, referencing the presence of children in the park. He ordered the man out of his car for a pat-down and vehicle search.
When the man refused, citing constitutional rights, the officer reportedly pointed a gun at his head and arrested him, charging the man with eight counts. These included making a false declaration (the man initially provided his name as “Mike” instead of “Michael”) and providing a false address (the address provided, though legitimate, did not match the one on his driving licence).
The man then lost his job as a contractor with federal government as a direct result of the charges, he told federal investigators.
“As with its pattern of unconstitutional stops, FPD routinely makes arrests without probable cause. Frequently, officers arrest people for conduct that plainly does not meet the elements of the cited offense,” the report states.
The man racially abused by police
One man interviewed by investigators said that in August 2014, police entered his apartment following an altercation inside. He claims he was pulled out of the unit, and told an officer “you don’t have a reason to lock me up”.
According to his account, the officer responded: “N*gger, I can find something to lock you up on.”
“Good luck with that,” the man claims to have responded. The officer slammed the man’s face into a wall and he fell to the floor.
“Don’t pass out, motherf*cker, because I’m not carrying you to my car,” the officer is claimed to have said.
The woman shot in the chest with a taser
In November 2013, a Black woman was shot in the chest with a Taser by a correctional officer at a city jail after she failed to follow commands to walk to a cell.
The woman had been arrested on drink driving charges and had allegedly yelled an “insulting remark” at the officer. The report notes “her conduct amounted to verbal noncompliance or passive resistance at most”.
According to the incident report, written by another Ferguson police officer, the woman was tasered for “not doing what she was told”.
By: Oliver Laughland