Months after Attorney General Eric Holder launched an investigation of Ferguson Police Department in the wake of Michael Brown’s death, the Department of Justice released a 102-page report detailing systemic race discrimination and abuses of power in the embattled city. But despite the DOJ’s damning findings, the city’s mayor remains unconvinced that widespread problems exist.
“What they’ve shown is that it has happened. Now, how often has that happened? I don’t know. Their assertion is it happens regularly. Based on what? I’m not sure yet,” said Mayor James Knowles III, during an interview Friday. “Do they have a statistic that tells me that they’ve examined every arrest that we’ve made for the past four years and that half, or all, or 10 percent, or 5 percent are unconstitutional or without cause? They do not have that. They have not examined at that level that I know of at this point.”
He also maintains that there is “no proof” of gross civil rights violations.
The mayor is one of many long-standing officials charged with damage control. The city will likely enter an agreement with the DOJ to make systemic reforms, in order to avoid a federal lawsuit. Knowles contends that cleanup efforts are already underway and offer proof that the situation isn’t dire. But the people tasked with implementing changes were heavily involved in establishing the local law enforcement structure. For instance, Judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer imposed steep fines on African Americans but owes $170,000 in unpaid taxes.
According to the DOJ’s findings, African Americans who make up 67 of Ferguson’s population, were involved in 93 percent of arrests, 85 percent of traffic stops, and received 90 percent of tickets issued by officers, from 2012 to 2014. The report also detailed numerous cases in which officers approached black men and women without probable cause. Officers worked with the courts to issue egregious fines and fees to boost city revenue, at the expense of individuals who could not afford to pay them and were subsequently thrown in jail. Police also used excessive force with impunity.
On Friday, Holder announced that he will dismantle the police department if need be.