After the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, Ferguson is supposed to reform its police and justice system. But the city council amends the measures.
U.S. Attorney General Lynch sues: Ferguson’s holdout left her no choice. Photo: ap
In the dispute over reforming Ferguson’s police and justice systems, the U.S. Justice Department has now sued the city. The move was in response to the city council’s decision to revise the previously agreed-upon package of measures. The civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday said Ferguson’s administration routinely violates residents’ rights and abuses police to generate revenue.
Therefore, "legal action is necessary" to ensure that local police and judicial methods reflect the Constitution and federal laws, said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Ferguson’s mayor, meanwhile, cited the high cost of reform as a reason for the council’s request for changes.
The St. Louis suburb has been in the Justice Department’s sights since 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white officer there on Aug. 9, 2014. The teen was unarmed. The case led to riots and demonstrations against racially motivated police violence in the United States. A grand jury refrained from indicting the officer who shot the teen.
However, federal investigations uncovered patterns of discrimination in Ferguson’s criminal justice system. A Justice Ministry report in March 2015, for example, concluded that officers routinely used excessive force, conducted unfounded traffic stops and issued citations for minor offenses. It was also criticized that the courts relied too heavily on fines for petty offenses to flush money into the city coffers.
Criticism was also levelled at the police force, which is almost exclusively made up of white men. Two-thirds of Ferguson’s roughly 21,000 residents are black.
City council approves reforms
After tough negotiations, the administration there and the Justice Department agreed on comprehensive reforms to improve police and judicial treatment of the poor and minorities. These include mandatory body cameras and microphones for all police officers and jailers. In addition, the administration is to rewrite its penal code to ensure that there are no draconian fines or imprisonment for minor violations.
On Tuesday, the city council voted unanimously in favor of the reform deal, but at the same time introduced seven amendments. The background was a recent financial analysis, according to which implementing the requirements would cost up to four million dollars (about 3.5 million euros) in the first year alone, Mayor James Knowles said. The deal is so expensive, he said, that it could lead to the dissolution of Ferguson.
At the same time, city leaders said they were willing to negotiate a new agreement with Justice Department officials.
But department head Loretta Lynch is still suing. Ferguson’s refusal to comply, she said, had left her agency no choice but to sue. Ferguson residents had been waiting for justice for decades. "They shouldn’t be forced to wait any longer."