The controversy over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, was ignited and fueled by the culture of corruption and abuse in the area’s police department. Police routinely collected fines from residents for minor crimes, and those who couldn’t pay were crushed under debt. A new DOJ report on Ferguson sheds more light on how abusive the standard police practices had become (h/t Marginal Revolution). Residents were tazed for no justifiable reason, for example, and lost their jobs over trumped-up charges. More:
This culture within FPD influences officer activities in all areas of policing, beyond just ticketing. Officers expect and demand compliance even when they lack legal authority. They are inclined to interpret the exercise of free-speech rights as unlawful disobedience, innocent movements as physical threats, indications of mental or physical illness as belligerence. Police supervisors and leadership do too little to ensure that officers act in accordance with law and policy, and rarely respond meaningfully to civilian complaints of officer misconduct. The result is a pattern of stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment; infringement on free expression, as well as retaliation for protected expression, in violation of the First Amendment; and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
This report is jaw-dropping stuff. The systemic culture of abuse in places like Ferguson accounts in part for why Michael Brown had become such a flashpoint: he was a symbol of an entire population’s oppression by a perverse police power. Whatever you think about that case, it is clearer than ever just how serious the problems in that city are—and how much it needs reform. And note that Ferguson is by no means an outlier. Recent revelations about secret interrogation sites in Chicago suggest that these kinds of problems are much more national and pervasive than we would like to assume.