Justice Department Finds Pattern of Police Bias and Excessive Force in Ferguson

WASHINGTON — Police officers in Ferguson, Mo., have routinely violated the constitutional rights of the city’s black residents, the Justice Department has concluded in a scathing report that accuses the officers of using excessive force and making unjustified traffic stops for years.

The Justice Department, which opened its investigation after a white Ferguson police officer shot and killed a black teenager last summer, says the discrimination was fueled in part by racial stereotypes held by city officials. Investigators say the officials made racist jokes about blacks on their city email accounts.04fergusonweb-articlelarge

Ferguson is a largely black city with a government and a police force that are mostly white. After the shooting of the teenager, Michael Brown, the city erupted in angry, sometimes violent protests and looting. Since then, Ferguson has been at the center of a national debate over race and policing that has drawn in President Obama, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey.

The report’s findings were summarized by a federal law enforcement official. The full report is expected to be released on Wednesday. A separate report is expected to clear the officer, Darren Wilson, of any civil rights violations in the shooting of Mr. Brown.

Ferguson officials now face the choice of either negotiating a settlement with the Justice Department or potentially being sued by it on charges of violating the Constitution.

In compiling the report, federal investigators conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed 35,000 pages of police records and analyzed race data compiled for every police stop. They concluded that, over the past two years, African-Americans — who make up about two-thirds of the city’s population — accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of citations, 93 percent of arrests and 88 percent of cases in which the police used force.

Black motorists were twice as likely as whites to be searched but were less likely to be found in possession of contraband such as drugs or guns.

The findings reinforce what the city’s African-American residents have been saying publicly for the past year: that years of discrimination and mistrust created the volatile environment that erupted after Mr. Brown’s shooting.

article by Matt Apuzzo via nytimes.com

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