The Department of Justice (DOJ) will sue Ferguson, Missouri, if it finds evidence that its police department discriminates based on race and that its authorities aren’t trying to make changes.
Attorney General Eric Holder says he expects, before he leaves office, to announce the outcome of the DOJ’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department and of the police shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson.
The shooting of Brown sparked nationwide protests against police brutality that disproportionately affects the Black community. Holder is calling on police departments in Ferguson, where Brown was killed, to change their standards of practice. It’s not the first time Holder has pushed police departments to change their policies. By September, when Holder announced his plan to resign as attorney general, he had begun 20 department probes all over the country. The investigations found that misconduct such as “police brutality, abuse of the mentally ill, and excessive deadly force” was not uncommon. These police departments committed to making changes as suggested by the DOJ.
It’s likely the investigation of Ferguson’s law enforcement practices will come back showing inequality within the system; just last week 11 people filed a lawsuit against Ferguson alleging the practice of jailing residents for not being able to pay fees and traffic violations is an illegal use of debtors prisons. But most likely, Ferguson and its police department will decide to change their practices based on DOJ recommendations before they are sued.
Despite several police departments in the US changing their policies and promising progress, in the six months since Ferguson, police brutality has not ceased to exist. In fact, at least 15 – at least six of them Black – teenagers have been killed by police since Michael Brown was shot dead, and young Black people are killed by cops 4.5 times more often than other races or age groups. And people of color in general – including Jessie Hernandez, a 16-year-old queer Latina girl who was killed by Denver police last month – are the most likely groups to be killed by police.
People of color are also more likely to be sentenced to jail: Five times as many white people use drugs as Black people, yet Black people are 10 times more likely to go to jail for drug crimes. “I understand that mistrust,” Holder said regarding how Black communities often feel about police in the US. “I am the attorney general of the United States. But I am also a black man.”
Media Resources: ThinkProgress 2/19/2015, 12/12/2014; CNN 2/19/2015; Feminist Newswire 1/30/2014; The Daily Beast 11/25/2014; NAACP