It has been nine months since the killing of the unarmed and black Michael Brown, killed by a white police officer named Darren Wilson. The shooting sparked protests all over the United States and throughout the world, under the mantra #blacklivesmatter. Quite recently, the Department of Justice released the report from their investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. What it revealed was shocking to many, mainly white Americans who are unaware to the rampant systemic racial discrimination that still affects black people. To many African Americans however, having the Justice Department corroborate what black people have been fighting for over 400 years was not quite a surprise.
The Department of Justice found that the city’s policing practices were based on revenue rather than public safety needs, and that a disproportionate amount of this revenue comes from the direct targeting of African Americans in Ferguson. Despite making up 67% of the Ferguson population, African Americans made up 93% of arrests during the past two years. They accounted for 90% of citations and 85% of vehicle stops, though they were found to be in possession of contraband items 26% less often than white drivers. African Americans were also much more often cited or arrested when stopped by the police, regardless of the reason. These stops on African Americans also generated more citations in a single incident than any non-white driver stopped. The report found that race was a clear factor and motivation for stops, arrests, use of force, and citations, discriminating against African Americans heavily. This also included offenses that were almost entirely exclusive to African Americans- “95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges, and 94% of all Failure to Comply charges”
Regarding the use of force, black residents were much more likely to have force used against them, making up a stunning 90% of cases used by the FPD officers. Every single time a department canine was released and bit a citizen, the citizen in question was black. In one instance, a canine was released on and consequently bit a 14 year-old boy, unarmed, who was waiting for his friends in an abandoned house. Black residents of Ferguson reported being routinely harassed, disrespected, and almost literally being used as an ATM for the city. The traffic fines aimed at African Americans became an endless cycle of fees for many. One woman reported paying $550 on a fine, and over seven years later she still owes $541. The fine was originally $151. Racist emails were found being sent and received by Ferguson police officers. One depicted Barack Obama as a chimpanzee, the others were just as heinous. A long list of abhorrent acts of injustice targeted toward the African American community in Ferguson can be found here, in an article by the Huffington Post highlighting tweets of the report.
Though African American residents of Ferguson have often shared their experiences of discrimination and inequality in Ferguson, many white residents of Ferguson have been completely shocked by the protests in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting, denying that there is a problem of racism in the city. In an August 22nd report by NBC news, some white residents of Ferguson shared their beliefs of the city’s dynamic. Ferguson’s mayor, James Knowles, reported that “There is not a racial divide in the city of Ferguson. That is the perspective of all residents in our city.” Some were quoted corroborating the statement, that there was no racial divide in Ferguson, and another commented that she, and most of the other people she associated with, were color-blind. Reading the many conflicting statements made by residents of Ferguson, one could observe that black and white residents live in two completely different worlds. One is fair, just, and color-blind, and the other is the complete opposite. Many white residents of Ferguson have been completely blind to the quite blatant discrimination of black people residing in the same city. This problem is hardly unique to Ferguson, as the divide is seen in polls all over the country. Though 56% of blacks in America believe there is significant discrimination against black people, only 16% of whites agree, and a majority believe that whites are just as likely if not more likely than blacks to be discriminated against.
Throughout these past nine months as the #blacklivesmatter movement has continued produce protests, staged by not only African Americans, but a widely diverse racial makeup of allies and fellow activists, many American citizens- mostly white- have also taken to pro-police protests to express their dissent with the movement. In the wake of the DOJ report, it may be possible for more people to see more clearly the intensity of the discrimination African Americans face daily from the justice system. Michael Brown’s killing was not an isolated incident, but one of many. Amadou Diallo, Kaijeme Powell, Tamir Rice, Yvette Smith, Shantel Davis, Oscar Grant, Aiyanna Jones, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Vonderrit Myers- the list is inexhaustible. After a long history of being treated with contempt and abuse by the Ferguson police department, Brown’s death was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It unleashed centuries worth of the pain of injustice that gives undying vigor to these protests demanding human rights. The Ferguson police department’s actions are not unique either, activists all over the country have been speaking out on police brutality for decades. The report is a step toward accountability, demanding an answer from a corrupt police department, but it is not news. To so many black people living in the United States who continuously experience rampant racial discrimination in this country, the grass is green and the sky is blue- and like these things, the struggle stays the same.