5 Mar 2015

Ferguson police discrimination: the shocking numbers

As the family of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown prepares to file a wrongful death suit against Ferguson Missouri, we take a look at the shocking statistics around policing there.

Police officer next to car in Ferguson (Getty)

News of the family’s intentions came a day after the US Justice Department said the white officer involved, Darren Wilson, would not be prosecuted.

Brown family attorney Daryl Parks told reporters on Thursday that Officer Wilson “did not have to kill Michael Brown.”

On 9 August 2014 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot multiple times by Wilson, who told investigators he and Brown had an angry and violent encounter, and that he was in fear of his life.

In November a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson over the shooting.

‘Toxic environment’

As well as announcing it would not prosecute Officer Wilson, the Justice Department on Wednesday released a damning 102-page document detailing racial persecution of black residents, in Ferguson, Missouri, by its overwhelmingly white law enforcement authorities.

Unveiling the report, Attorney General Eric Holder blamed Ferguson police for creating a “highly toxic environment, defined by mistrust and resentment”, which helped trigger violent clashes after the shooting of Michael Brown.

Ferguson’s police and court practices both “reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes”, the report found, adding that some officers had “discriminatory intent” – several of whom were found to have sent racist emails.

‘Unnecessary harm’

The report also unearthed wider discriminatory practices within the municipal court system, in which “unnecessary harm” was imposed largely on African American citizens.

According to the investigation, African Americans account for 85 per cent of vehicle stops, 90 per cent of citations, and 93 per cent of arrests made by Ferguson Police Department officers, despite comprising only 67 per cent of Ferguson’s population.

Despite being more likely to be pulled over, African Americans were 26 per cent less likely to have contraband found on them during a search.

They also had a disproportionate amount of force used against them, accounting for 88 per cent of all cases reported from 2010 to August 2014.

The examples of incidents cited in the report where police have violated rights of African Americans residents include:

A man accused of being a paedophile for sitting in his parked car near a park. He was then arrested (reportedly at gunpoint) for various charges including “making a false declaration” because he said his name was Mike when the name on his driver’s licence was Michael.

A black Ferguson resident who was told “N****r, I can find something to lock you up on”.

Emails in which officers describe Barack Obama as a “chimpanzee”, and say he cannot win a second term as president, because “what black man holds a steady job for four years?”