To pretend as if all police officers are corrupt is about as stupid and naive as to pretend none of them are, so let’s just all hold hands and get this out of the way right now: Not all cops are good, not all cops are bad, okay? Good. Now that we’ve taken care of that…
The Department of Justice has decided to press charges against Ferguson, Missouri for what it found to be gross violations of their citizens civil rights. The spotlight was shone brightly on Ferguson last year when one of its officers, Darren Wilson, initiated an altercation with Michael Brown, an unarmed, black teenager who had just allegedly committed a “strong arm robbery” of a convenience store. The altercation between Wilson and Brown resulted in Brown’s death, and the decision by a Grand Jury in the state to not prosecute Wilson touched-off a firestorm of protests, some of which turned violent, and ultimately led to the DOJ’s investigation into the entire police department, the results of which were published last year and showed systemic abuses.
Ferguson’s leadership and the Justice Department have been in tense negotiations over the investigation. The DOJ has constitutionally-guaranteed powers to levy all manner of discipline on Ferguson’s police department, including disbanding it entirely. Negotiations apparently soured earlier this week, and that’s what led the DOJ to file its suit against Ferguson.
The Huffington Post reported some of the details of the Justice Department’s initial deal with Ferguson.
The negotiated deal would have required several progressive changes, including pushing police to practice de-escalation tactics without using force, mandating extensive training for officers and making city officials engage with minority groups that have had negative experiences with the police department. (source)
That last part, about nullifying the entire deal, really seemed to outrage the DOJ and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who said in a press conference, “To allow the city to simply evade the terms of an agreement carefully negotiated and presumably agreed to by simply transferring control of the police department to another state entity was simply unconscionable to us.” I couldn’t agree more, if I tried.
It’s absolutely appalling to see that things like training cops to not use deadly force all the time is so offensive to Ferguson PD that they’d try to weasel out of this arrangement. Let’s be really clear here, what the DOJ is accusing the government of Ferguson, its courts and its police department of is the exact sort of governmental tyranny that so-called small government conservatives claim to be most outraged and incensed by.
Let’s not forget what we’re dealing with. Here’s another excerpt from the same HuffPo article, this time with some details as to what the DOJ found in their investigation in the first place.
The report depicted a corrupt local government, in which the police department and municipal court “worked in concert to maximize revenue at every stage of the enforcement process” for several years. The Justice Department also released troubling emails from Ferguson officials that referred to President Barack Obama as a “chimpanzee” and African-Americans as having “no frigging clue who their Daddies are.” (source)
Disgusting, abhorrent behavior from people we pay to be better humans than that. The Department of Justice is acting more than within their powers, and no matter how much conservatives howl to the contrary, this is exactly how the Constitution and our post-reconstruction era government works. We have a strong central government for cases exactly like this one, where local and state municipalities have clearly abdicated any and all fucks they once might have given for their citizens’ constitutional rights.
This lawsuit should serve as a warning to every police department in the country. You cannot abuse your people. Serve and protect doesn’t mean “serve and protect the best interests of our bank accounts.” The first line of defense our constitutional rights have are the cops, and when they are so gloriously and transparently corrupt, the Department of Justice can and needs to step in to rectify the hell out of that mess.
The problem? I have no idea if it will signal a change throughout the country, no matter how much it should. The things that the DOJ wanted Ferguson PD to implement are tactics and training that should be the standard across the country, and shouldn’t need to be foisted upon our men and women in blue. But it will take people understanding what their rights really are, so that they rightly see the DOJ’s lawsuit not as overreach, but as exactly what a government that is charged with protecting the domestic tranquility of the nation does.
But as always, I find myself hesitant to hold my breath on that.