November 24, 2015
Dear 2016 Presidential Candidates:
This letter is being sent to all Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.
We believe there is an issue in this campaign that so far has received only limited attention. We hope to change that. The issue has to do with the actions of the Department of Justice with reference to the investigation and proposed settlement with the City of Ferguson and other Civil Rights investigations.
As you may know, the Department of Justice investigated the City of Ferguson for Constitutional violations and is currently attempting to negotiate a consent decree with the City. To date, the Department of Justice has not released any of the information it collected and evaluated and has told the City is cannot release its settlement demands.
This lack of transparency, secrecy even, is undermining trust and keeping our City and our nation from moving forward. Protesters are concerned that the DOJ has softened its findings to protect the Ferguson city administration. Residents believe the DOJ has selectively released information to present Ferguson as far worse than it is, and is now using that distorted view to justify bankrupting the City.
We the residents of Ferguson have a right to transparency – we have a right to see for ourselves the information upon which the Department of Justice based its report. A public presentation of everything is our best chance of bringing clarity, justice and progress to Ferguson and yes to the United States. And this level of transparency needs to become the norm for Civil Rights investigations going forward. We need to continue the conversation that began in Ferguson. But we must do so from a foundation of truth.
We are asking you, if elected President, to commit to requiring the Department of Justice to provide full transparency into Civil Rights investigations, including Ferguson.
We respectfully ask that you fill out the enclosed questionnaire and return it to Ferguson Truth. Our country needs to continue its journey towards greater equality and freedom for all. Shining the light of transparency on this process will help our country navigate its path to a more inclusive and stronger United States.
The Members of Ferguson Truth
Download Letter and Survey as PDF
In December 2015 a 19 year old protester named Josh Williams will be sentenced for his part in trying to set fire to a convenience store. Those of us in Ferguson knew Josh very well. During the months of protests he was often seen at the Ferguson police station shouting and taunting officers. He had been physically and verbally abusive towards local residents as well, including minors. Through several Ferguson City Council Meetings he told us blatantly that our town and neighborhoods were going to burn.
Despite all that, he seemed like a nice kid, more than anything else just young and emotionally lost. Though he was always the one doing the shouting, the threatening, it always seemed the like encouragement that got him to do it came from a group of seasoned, angry protesters. To his own testament, they became his family, and it really seemed like he did the shouting and taunting to make his new family happy. The seasoned protesters didn’t do anything to actually put themselves at much legal risk, now it’s Josh that’s going to jail.
The Black Lives Matter movement is rightly characterized as both youth-driven and leaderless. But up close here in Ferguson it seems like much of what the youth are saying comes from an older generation of activists and intellectuals that believe our system and society are fundamentally corrupted by racism.
“The Whole Damn System is Guilty as Hell”. “All Cops are Racist” and dozens of variations that suggest that every aspect of our economy, educational and legal systems are so corrupt and illegitimate that the only way forward is to overthrow them.
The many variations of “we need a revolution” look great on T-shirts of course, and fit easily into a twitter message. But they also have no connection with the real world. The system the young protesters are shouting about today will be the system in place tomorrow and for many years after that. Democracy isn’t going anywhere. Capitalism isn’t going anywhere. While creaky and balky, democratic capitalism does a pretty good job of meeting the needs of most of our population and has a far better track record than any other approach.
Yes, we need to continue to make our country and economy more inclusive, and yes we need to continue to work to improve police transparency and accountability. But these are improvements to the system we have, not a revolution. Historically, improvements come from working within and succeeding within the system. While being able to walk down any street anywhere without being called n___r will be a great step forward, the true measure of equality is and will always be economic.
Often it seems here in Ferguson that an older generation of activists and intellectuals are getting the young activists so angry at “the system” that they will be unable to participate in it, they will be unable to accumulate economic power. It’s hard to figure out how to succeed in a system if you are convinced it is corrupt and evil.
The movement risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating a generation of young African American activists that purposely reject the system and then, failing to prosper in it, blame it on the system.
The irony of this is that many of the seasoned activists have done well for themselves. For example, Dr. Cornell West, Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University has succeeded within the educational system as well as economically. The seasoned protesters in Ferguson, including Dr. West who were manipulating Josh’s anger and encouraging his outrages have jobs and mortgages. They were careful in keeping their social status clean, while using those who are expendable to them.
Let’s hope that this angry young generation of protesters eventually realize the potential and worth of themselves and the system we have and figures out how they can succeed within it. You cannot change the law until you understand the law.
Let’s hope the other Joshes out there learn from Josh Williams' mistakes and don’t become so infused with the anger of their elders that they wind up ruining their own lives.
Is it right for the DOJ to give a private update to a small group of selected citizens and not to the entire community, and then refuse to address the controversy that this private meeting caused?
It’s hard to imagine the City misleading its residents, or what it would gain by doing so – if it was the Ferguson attorney recommending against release, residents would have accepted the answer. Maybe it was just an innocent mistake on the part of the DOJ, the result of an internal communications breakdown causing two different divisions of the DOJ to provide contradictory statements.
Why does it matter what the DOJ said? The City is trying to rebuild trust with all parts of Ferguson. If the DOJ is talking out of both sides of its mouth then it is making the City of Ferguson look like a liar – the DOJ is undermining residents’ trust in their elected officials. Again, the cause could be innocent miscommunications within the DOJ, but its things like that that make some Ferguson residents believe the Department of Justice is purposely trying to engineer the bankrupting and de-incorporation of our city.
Whatever the cause of the miscommunication, ALL residents of Ferguson want to know exactly what the DOJ told the City of Ferguson: did the DOJ encourage the City to not publicly disclose the DOJ’s settlement request? Ferguson and the United States deserve transparency.
One of the most troubling aspects of the Department of Justice report on the City of Ferguson was the description of the use of police dogs by the Ferguson Police Department. The report seemed to suggest that the FPD regularly loosed police dogs on African-Americans, noting the “FPD’s use of dog bites only against African-American subjects is evidence of discriminatory policing”. For older residents with memories of the Civil Rights movement, the report called up images of Bull Connor unleashing police dogs to attack peaceful marchers.
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.