As most Ferguson residents know, the City has received a letter of clarification from the Department of Justice and is now going to vote to approve the Consent Decree. While in some ways our preference would have been to fight the DOJ all the way to court, the City Manager, Council and Mayor all believe signing the clarified Consent Decree is the best move for the City. After careful consideration, we agree – the City needs to sign the Consent Decree and move forward.
A part of us was looking forward to clearing Ferguson’s name in a trial. A great many residents are very frustrated at the distortions in the DOJ Report on the Ferguson Police Department and the almost slanderous portrayal of our City by the two Attorney Generals. A trial and the discovery process would have forced the DOJ to actually release the information behind their charges against our police department and we believe would have highlighted just how distorted the report was, from anecdotes that are demonstrably untrue to purposely skewed data.
United we Stand, Divided we Fail. Ferguson is a community divided. Anyone who has witnessed recent events in Ferguson cannot deny the divisions and distrust that exists in our community. From protesters to community members to law enforcement to city administration, it has become us against them. Racial epithets, labels, slurs, accusations, intimidation, to name just a few of the issues, happen far too often in Ferguson today. It is time for us to turn a new page together and put the past where it belongs - behind us. Many among us claim to have been treated differently and those of us that have not experienced this must accept those feelings honestly. Likewise, those that claim such treatment must be ready to let the past go and move forward in a constructive manner. This is our opportunity to move into that new place as an example of how diversity can work in a community such as Ferguson.
The Mayor has said from the start that signing a financially realistic decree was in the City’s best interests. Going to trial would have been extremely expensive and taken several years. Ferguson would have been unlikely to completely win, and would then still be faced with the costs of whatever a judge imposed. Ferguson would have also had a much harder time moving forward as a City with the contentiousness of a lawsuit hanging over us. Signing the clarified Consent Decree allows us to avoid the cost of litigation and start moving forward. It also gives our city a better chance to control the narrative to highlight the positives going on in Ferguson.
With the clarifications, the financial costs of the Consent Decree have been reduced by about half, to something we can afford. Projecting costs is always difficult and subject to many variables. Our City Manager and Budget Director’s initial projections were based on a financial interpretation of general language in the decree. Their initial projection of costs was over $2 million in the first year and over a million for each subsequent year of the decree, a cost that would have bankrupted Ferguson. With the clarifications on salaries and the flexibility on timing, the City Manager and Budget Director now project the first year costs to be about $1.2 million and subsequent years $500,000 to $600,000. We can afford both of these, assuming we pass the upcoming tax increase.
Most of the money we will spend stays in Ferguson. Yes, there will be the cost of the outside monitor, but most of the money being spent to implement the Consent Decree will stay here in Ferguson, in the form of more police and slightly higher police salaries. The money we spend will make our City better.
Ferguson does NOT admit guilt in the Consent Decree. This is a key point. The City has told the DOJ from the start that it disagreed with the distorted charges of racism in the report and would not in any way admit to them in a Consent Decree. After much back and forth, the DOJ finally backed off. The City admits no guilt by signing the Consent Decree and does not expose itself to any legal liability for past actions.
Signing the Consent Decree shifts oversight to a local Federal Judge. In the negotiating process, the DOJ acts as not just the prosecutor but also the judge - because they could financially bury the city, they had a lot of leverage to dictate the terms. Now that we actually have a decree, a Federal Judge based here in St. Louis will oversee the case. If something proves to be financially unviable for the City it is a Federal Judge living in Missouri that will make the determination, NOT someone from the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice.
A vague letter of clarification is better for Ferguson. We know many residents that read the letter from the DOJ were concerned about it’s vagueness (and bothered by its petulance). However from a legal standpoint, the vagueness of the letter gives the City much greater flexibility. Any disputes over implementation and costs that can’t be negotiated will eventually be decided in court. If the letter had been specific, then the City would be able to use the letter to challenge only that specific cost. Because the letter is vague, and because the DOJ called out that they thought Ferguson’s cost estimates were inflated, Ferguson has an opening to go back to the judge on any cost that proves to be financially unrealistic. The letter of clarification will be an important lever that the City can use to stay within its budget.
We still don’t trust the DOJ. We speak for many when we say that it seemed like the DOJ was often purposely inciting anger and protest while ignoring the real Ferguson and the progress we are making. But the clarification letter, for all of its petulance and digs, did in many ways go beyond what the Council was asking for to offer assurances. We will continue to be skeptical of the DOJ’s motives as we move forward, but the letter was a good step. And most importantly, if there are disputes it will be a judge deciding, not the DOJ.
We do trust our Mayor. The Mayor has made a compelling case for signing the Consent Decree and the City Manager has confirmed this case with new cost estimates. The Mayor and Council members have a fiduciary responsibility to the city of Ferguson, meaning he/she has to do what is in the best financial interest of the city going forward. Had they signed the original decree as it was presented they would not have been fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility. They now believe signing the consent decree is financially realistic, and we trust their assessment.
We will continue to fight to clear Ferguson’s name. The members of Ferguson Truth and many other residents believe that Ferguson has been treated unfairly by the DOJ. The process will be different, but we can assure you that Ferguson Truth will continue to fight for transparency from the DOJ. We will continue to do everything we can to force the DOJ to release the background information of the report and to highlight the degree to which the DOJ distorted or selectively presented information to support a political narrative. We will continue to fight for Truth in Ferguson!
Please don’t abandon Ferguson. There is a part of the social justice movement that actively wants Ferguson destroyed as a trophy. We have to admit, it has been tempting at times to just put our homes on the market and move away from the madness and irrational anger. But we love our neighbors and we love our beautiful city. With the Consent Decree, the madness will start to recede and we can get on with the task of making Ferguson an even better city that will be an example of diversity and strength for the United States. We hope you will take a deep breath and stay as well.
Signing is the best option for the City. In some ways we view the acceptance of this decree as a bitter pill, but it is the best option that Ferguson has of surviving and again thriving. We hope you will join us in supporting the Mayor and Council’s decision to sign the clarified Consent Decree.
Help Ferguson Get the Truth Out
Beginning with Eric Holder announcing the Department of Justice’s “searing” report, the DOJ has selectively collected and presented information to paint Ferguson as racist and abusive. Ferguson Truth was formed to push for transparency and truth from the Department of Justice, to counteract this distorted narrative that the DOJ created.