This week marks the two-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by former police officer Darren Wilson, whoresigned from his position but was not charged. Twenty-four months, periods of unrest and a Justice Department investigation later, the city remains in the early stages of transition.
A complete overhaul, which included a new mayor and police chief (both of who are Black), has led to police body cameras, use-of-force policies, a civil review board and updated police training. Additionally, 20 officers have left the force.
Department of Justice Investigation: ‘Pattern or practice’ of Racism
The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Ferguson in February after an investigation into the city’s court system and police department found what Attorney General Loretta Lynch described as a “pattern or practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution and federal civil rights laws.” The lawsuit was filed after a city council rejected a reform plan the Justice Department proposed. The council unanimously voted against the plan, saying it was too expensive.
According to the DOJ report, which was released last year, Ferguson’s revenue generated from municipal fines and fees had been increasing for the past few years. From 2010 to 2013 revenue jumped from $1.38 million to $2.46 million. In 2014, the Municipal Court garnered an estimated $2.7 million in revenue. At this time the city was disproportionately fining its minority citizens, the DOJ’s report found. Following the report, revenue plummeted to about $500,000 in 2016. The citizens voted to introduce a sales tax and utility tax to account for the $2 million deficit.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill that went into effect on August 28, 2015, which he called the “most sweeping” municipal reform bill the state has ever seen. According to the bill:
“These provisions create conditions for the prosecution of minor traffic violations including: limiting the fines imposed when combined with court costs to $300, prohibiting sentencing to confinement for the underlying violation (except for certain classes of violation) or failure to pay a fine (except when a violation of terms of probation), and requiring criminal case court costs to be assessed unless the defendant is indigent or the case is dismissed.”
Sweeping changes have been made at the Ferguson Police Department, some more effective than others. In July, a new police chief was hired. Andre Anderson signed a six-month contract with the department but resigned on December 2, two months before his contract ended. Despite his short time in the role, Anderson still managed to make several notable positive changes, including implementing new leadership training and a community orientated training for the town’s police officers. He also created a community engagement team and a faith based alliance, where religious leaders in the community work with each other to find ways to relieve the strain in the community.
Police Chief Delrash Moss replaced Anderson in May. Moss has placed a heavy emphasis on community policing and requires his officers to exit their vehicles in order to engage with residents. The force currently has seven Black officers out of 36, which is not yet reflective of the Ferguson community, which is 65.7 percent Black. This number is expected to go up when a number ofopen jobs are filled.
However, not all changes have gone as planned. During his time as chief, Anderson raised money for body cameras for the department. But a recent report found that the department’s policy regarding body cams is not up to standard. “Police Worn Body Cameras: A Policy Scorecard” measured police body cam policies in cities across the country based on eight different criteria. Ferguson’s policy failed in all eight sections.
Forward Through Ferguson
When the Ferguson Commission concluded its study of the city’s socioeconomic conditions, they established the nonprofit Forward Through Ferguson committee.The committee divided their findings into four different categories: Racial Equity, Justice for All, Youth at the Center, and Opportunity to Thrive.
The first section examines the socioeconomic gap between affluent white neighborhoods and poverty-stricken Black neighborhoods. They found discrepancies in life expectancy, which research ties to educational opportunities.They also found Black residents “are significantly more likely than White individuals to suffer from several chronic diseases and conditions including obesity, asthma, and diabetes.” This contributes to the fact that excessive medical costs in Black communities are on pace to rise to $126 billion in four years.
Next they delve into how to create a transparent justice system. They have appointed the attorney general as the special prosecutor to oversee cases that involve use of force. In order to curb the fact that the majority of officers are unaccredited, and lack the proper training, along with inconsistent psychological evaluations, the county will combine multiple training centers into one. Other areas the committee has called for change are conflict of interest and improved police community relations.
The committee also recommends community programs to address career development, access to transportation and care, and improved housing support.
Nicole Hudson, a Forward Through Ferguson staff member has acknowledged, “it will take decades to fix problems that took decades to create.”
“If you understand what’s happening to be about a kid getting shot, then you probably are going to be confused about why it’s still news,” she said. “But if you understand our nation’s history with race and race relations and laws and policies that have do with housing and job access It’s no surprise that after a certain amount of time, we are going to have to deal with them.”