Tom Claffy, a longtime Ferguson resident and member of Ferguson Truth, recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to the City of Ferguson. Ferguson’s response seems to suggest, yet again, that the Department of Justice didn’t actually conduct a thorough analysis of the actions of the Ferguson Police Department. This, more than anything else, is why we want the City of Ferguson to release the proposed DOJ settlement before the City Council votes to accept it – we want to be sure that the proposed settlement improves Ferguson and doesn’t unjustly penalize Ferguson to satisfy the DOJ’s political needs.
One of the most troubling aspects of the original DOJ report was the description of the use police dogs, which the DOJ suggested was “evidence of discriminatory policing”. Tom submitted requests to the Ferguson Police Department and the DOJ for information on the cases cited in the DOJ report. The DOJ still hasn’t responded, but below is part of the City of Ferguson’s response (Click HERE for the full letter):
"Please note that the representatives of the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ did not provide us with the report numbers, names or other identifying information that those representatives used in their analysis regarding the use of canines by the Ferguson Police Department."
So basically, the DOJ didn’t tell the City which cases it referenced, or ask the Ferguson Police Department for any additional information on the files it reviewed. It seems as if the DOJ didn’t ask to talk to the officers involved, or the Supervisors on duty at the time. The DOJ notes that it talked to one child that had been bitten several years ago, but not much more. The DOJ notes “In every canine bite incident for which racial information is available, the person bitten was African American.” (emphasis added). How is it possible that racial information was not available? Did the DOJ not do even the small bit of research necessary to identify the race of the person being bitten? Even the language about the severity of the bites is unclear. In one example from four years ago, the DOJ specifically notes that the bite resulted in puncture wounds. In another example, the DOJ report seems to suggest that the dog dragged a teen out of a closet by the teen’s pants leg. According to the DOJ report, there were fourteen examples over a four and a half year period – how hard would it have been to research each of these?
What it has felt like from the start is that the DOJ wasn’t really interested in doing an in depth analysis of sleepy little diverse Ferguson, one of the most integrated cities in the St. Louis region. Instead, it was addressing a political situation – the Darren Wilson report was sure to infuriate the social justice community, and so the report on general practices of the Ferguson Police Department would have to justify the explosion of anger – “Darren Wilson’s actions weren’t racist, but the police department is”.
But in reality, this isn’t true – the Ferguson Police Department isn’t racist – it’s not out hunting African Americans to fatten the city coffers. The DOJ report wove together a series of anecdotes and bits of information taken out of context to build its narrative, but every time we start digging down, their narrative falls apart – the DOJ has purposely distorted information or provided it without necessary context. The disproportionate ticketing of African Americans? The DOJ took information Ferguson publicly reports then changed how disparity was calculated to make Ferguson seem worse. The suggestion that Ferguson specifically targeted African Americans to double its traffic fines revenue? Almost all of the increase in traffic fines was related to the use of red light cameras.
The examples go on and on. The DOJ didn’t perform an analysis of the Ferguson Police Department, but instead prepared a simplistic, distorted report to satisfy a political audience. We have heard multiple times from many reliable sources that the Ferguson report was rewritten multiple times until it was “scathing” enough to meet the DOJ’s agenda. The residents of Ferguson want to make our city better. We support reforms of the municipal court system and increasing community policing, but we don’t want to be a “sacrifice” for the social justice community. This is why it is so important for the City of Ferguson to release the proposed settlement before signing. And why, maybe, the best answer is to not settle but instead to force the DOJ to present, in a court of law, what it actually found. No justice, no peace? No truth, no justice.
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.