TIME Crime

These Are Some of the Racist Emails Ferguson Police Sent

Riot police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 11, 2014.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Riot police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 11, 2014.

Messages are ‘demonstrative of impermissible bias,’ report says

One email mocked then-recently elected President Barack Obama, stating he wouldn’t hold the office for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” A second depicted him as a chimpanzee. Another email ridiculed African-American speech patterns as other messages made jokes involving a black mother receiving an abortion and described a photo of what appeared to be dancing African women as “Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.”

MORE Feds Clear Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson of Civil Rights Violations

Those were just some of the emails released by the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday as it released the findings of two civil rights investigations into the Ferguson, Mo. police that showed evidence of overt racism and prejudice within the department.

The justice department said that its review of internal documents “revealed many additional email communications that exhibited racial or ethnic bias, as well as other forms of bias.” The report included a summary of one December 2011 email that mocked Muslims and another that joked about African-Americans receiving welfare.

“The content of these communications is unequivocally derogatory, dehumanizing and demonstrative of impermissible bias,” the report says.

MORE Ferguson Reviewing Federal Report on Police Force

The investigation also found that the emails included Ferguson Police Department supervisors who “are responsible for holding officers accountable to governing laws, including the Constitution, and helping to ensure that officers treat all people equally under the law, regardless of race or any other protected characteristic.”

The report found only one instance in which someone within the department acknowledged that the material was offensive, but the investigation did not find that anyone had ever been disciplined.

Ferguson police became a focal point of a national conversation about race and policing last summer after Darren Wilson, a white officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Wilson was not indicted by a grand jury and on Wednesday the federal government announced it had cleared the officer of committing civil rights violations.

Read next: Attorney General Says Report of Ferguson Police Is ‘Searing’

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TIME Civil Rights

Feds Clear Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson of Civil Rights Violations

Prosecutors cannot disprove that the officer who shot Michael Brown "feared for his safety”

The Department of Justice has cleared Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., of committing civil rights violations in the August confrontation that sparked sometimes violent local and national protests.

A separate report from the Justice Department did find, however, that the Ferguson Police Department was in frequent violation of several provisions of the Constitution.

The report, one of two released on Wednesday, broadly corroborates Wilson’s account of what happened in the St. Louis suburb on Aug.9. The officer said he spotted Brown and a friend walking in the middle of the street. Wilson told prosecutors and investigators he suspected the pair in the theft of cigarillos from a nearby convenience store, and called for backup before pulling to a stop near them.

The officer and some witnesses said Brown reached into Wilson’s police car to punch and grab him. Even though other witnesses stated that Wilson had reached out of his vehicle to grab Brown by the neck, prosecutors said their accounts were “inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence.”

Wilson said he took out his weapon while still in his vehicle and shot Brown in the hand as the teenager attempted to gain control of the gun. The report found “no credible evidence to disprove Wilson’s account” of what happened inside the vehicle.

Brown then ran away and Wilson gave chase, the report said. Autopsy results found that Brown had not been shot in the back as he was running away, as some witnesses reported. Instead, the report found, Brown was approaching Wilson in a manner that “appeared to pose a physical threat” when he was shot. The shooting death led to weeks of often-violent protests in the city.

Witnesses said that “Wilson fired at Brown in what appeared to be self-defense and stopped firing once Brown fell to the ground.” Though a number of witnesses claimed Brown held his hands up in a surrender position before Wilson fired, the report found that they were not credible.

“Some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witnesses’ own prior statements with no explanation,” the Wilson report concluded. A state grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November; he resigned from the Ferguson Police Department that same month.

A separate Justice Department investigation opened after Brown’s shooting has found routine patterns and practices of racism in Ferguson, including the excessive use of force and unjustified arrests.

“Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement accompanying the release of the reports. “Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action.”

Brown’s parents said they were “saddened” by the decision to clear Wilson, but said they were encouraged by the DOJ’s findings about the Ferguson police. “It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country,” Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. said in a statement. “If that change happens, our son’s death will not have been in vain.”

TIME justice

U.S. Faults Ferguson Police for Racial Bias

Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo. on Oct. 10, 2014.
Robert Cohen—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Getty Images Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., on Oct. 10, 2014

The report is scathing, but the big question is what comes next

The violent protests in Ferguson last August were driven by the indelible image of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, lying in the street after a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot him dead. But the outrage in Ferguson, and the national debate that accompanied it, were also about something harder to see: racism, and the allegation that Ferguson’s largely white cops were deeply, systematically and violently prejudiced against black residents.

Now, as one of his last acts as U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder has painted a picture of Ferguson’s entrenched racism that is clear and unmistakable. A Justice Department investigation opened after Brown’s shooting has found routine patterns and practices of racism in Ferguson, including the excessive use of force and unjustified arrests, officials said Tuesday. The findings are scathing in their detail:

In 88 percent of the cases in which the department used force, it was against African Americans. In all of the 14 canine-bite incidents for which racial information was available, the person bitten was African American.

In Ferguson court cases, African Americans are 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal judge, according to the Justice review. In 2013, African Americans accounted for 92 percent of cases in which an arrest warrant was issued.

The investigation also turned up bigoted emails, like one from November 2008 that reportedly said President Obama wouldn’t complete his first term as President because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported another racist message, from May 2011, reading: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.'”

The Justice Department spent 100 days in Ferguson collecting such details, and the report is an end in itself, putting an official stamp on the town’s problems that some had found easy to dismiss. But when it comes to fixing the harsh reality of racism in Ferguson, it’s not clear transparency will be enough.

The question now is whether the report will deliver reform in the beleaguered St. Louis suburb. The Justice Department under Holder has significantly increased the number of pattern or practice investigations, and some past settlements with police departments have led to dramatic improvements. But others say the department’s lack of enforcement powers mean reform depends on local politicians, and worry Ferguson’s leaders won’t bring change.

Under the 1994 law authorizing such “pattern or practice” investigations, the Justice Department has little enforcement power to fix the problems it finds. As a rule, it enters into contracts with the offending force, which agrees to increase transparency and data collection and to provide better training and supervision.

Police officials and their unions often resist reform, several studies have shown. The Justice Department has “very few sticks they can use,” to get past such obstacles, says Elliot Harvey Schatmeier, a lawyer at the New York City office of Kirkland & Ellis and the author of one such study.

Others say that in many cases, the attention brought by the investigations is enough. In Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Los Angeles, Justice Department investigations led to successful reforms, says Chris Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations and a criminal-justice scholar. More important, Stone says, “They’ve established a national standard for what good policing looks like.”

Holder’s Ferguson findings, Stone says, have the potential to lead to a similar blueprint for smaller, suburban police forces around the country, which have typically been hard to reform.

By the same token, though, a failure in the high-profile Ferguson case could set back the effort to reform small police departments. Holder has established with clarity the problem in Ferguson. But without local political buy-in, the town that came to symbolize 21st century police racism in America could end up symbolizing its resistance to reform too.

TIME justice

U.S. Report Finds Racial Bias in Ferguson Police, Official Says

Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo. on Oct. 10, 2014.
Robert Cohen—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Getty Images Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., on Oct. 10, 2014

(WASHINGTON) — A Justice Department investigation will allege sweeping patterns of discrimination within the Ferguson, Missouri, police department and at the municipal jail and court, a law enforcement official familiar with the report said Tuesday.

The report, which could be released as soon as Wednesday, will charge that police disproportionately use excessive force against blacks and that black drivers are stopped and searched far more often than white motorists, even though they’re less likely to be carrying contraband.

The Justice Department also found that blacks were 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal court judge, and that from April to September of last year, 95 percent of people kept at the city jail for more than two days were black, according to the official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak on the record before the report is made public.

The Justice Department began the civil rights investigation following the August shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white police officer. That killing set off weeks of protests.

The official says the report will allege direct evidence of racial bias among police officers and court workers and detail a criminal justice system that prioritizes generating revenue over public safety.

Among the findings of the report was a racially tinged 2008 message in a municipal email account stating that President Barack Obama would not be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

The department has conducted roughly 20 broad civil rights investigations of police departments during the tenure of Attorney General Eric Holder, including Cleveland, Newark, New Jersey and Albuquerque. Most of those investigations end with the police department agreeing to changes its practices.

TIME Guns

Ferguson Police Are Testing ‘Less-Lethal’ Attachments For Guns

Latest response to the Michael Brown shooting

Police in the St. Louis suburb that was roiled by protests over the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager last year are testing a device docked on a regular handgun that could reduce the use of lethal force by law enforcement.

“The Alternative,” a bright orange cap that mounts onto a handgun, melds an attached projectile the size and shape of a ping-pong ball around a fired bullet, the Washington Post reports. The resulting projectile has enough force to knock a person down but not kill him, says Alternative Ballistics, the device’s makers.

Five police officers in Ferguson, Mo., are training this week to use the device, and the department plans to introduce it to the entire, 55-person force.

“It gives another option,” said Al Eickhoff, the city’s assistant police chief. “I really liked it. … You are always looking to save a life, not take a life.”

The device has not been tested on a human, according to Alternative Ballistics chief executive Christian Ellis.

Debates over police use-of-force have gripped the country after grand juries chose not to indict officers in Ferguson and New York in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively.

[Washington Post]

 

TIME justice

Ferguson Grand Juror Sues to Remove Gag Order

Ferguson
Cristina Fletes-Boutte—AP St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announces the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo

A new lawsuit claims that the standard of secrecy is outweighed by free speech rights

A member of the St. Louis grand jury that investigated the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson is suing to challenge a gag order that prevents the grand jury from publicly discussing the case.

The lawsuit, brought by a person identified as Grand Juror Doe, was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. It names as defendant the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, Robert McCulloch, who came under intense criticism for his handling of the case and who is the official charged with enforcing the Missouri law that requires grand jurors to maintain secrecy about closed-court proceedings.

Grand jury secrecy is a widely accepted legal standard, but the Ferguson shooting was not a typical case. The national uproar it generated led McCulloch to make a series of unusual decisions about how to present the evidence. In a sharp departure from the norm in criminal cases, the county presented all the available evidence—including witness testimony that was debunked—and declined to recommend a specific charge. It also released reams of transcripts, court records and other materials after the grand jury declined to bring charges against Wilson for the Aug. 9 shooting Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old.

McCulloch has said that those decisions were made in an attempt to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into an unfolding case that became a flashpoint for a national debate over police behavior and race relations. The lawsuit suggests that Grand Juror Doe disagreed with the manner in which evidence was presented to the panel, and likely the decision not to charge Wilson with a crime. It argues that because of the unique nature of the case, as well as McCulloch’s pledge to provide the public with a full accounting of the court’s proceedings, the standard of secrecy is outweighed by the plaintiff’s right to free speech.

“The rules of secrecy must yield because this is a highly unusual circumstance,” said Tony Rothert, the legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The First Amendment prevents the state from imposing a lifetime gag order in cases where the prosecuting attorney has purported to be transparent.”

Impartial legal experts say that McCulloch’s choices in how to present the case were lawful. But nobody, including McCulloch, disputes the process was unusual. In normal cases, a grand-jury hearing can be a formality that features few witnesses, often none presented by the defense. An old saw holds that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

In contrast, the 12 members of the Ferguson panel (nine white, three black) were asked to sift through mountains of evidence to determine whether the accused was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In effect, the prosecuting attorney treated the grand jury in many ways as if it were a trial jury—but without the same openness, and with an indefinite ban on discussing the experience.

As a result, the plaintiff alleges, the members of the panel should be permitted to share their opinions about the case, which might “contribute to the current public dialogue concerning race relations.” The suit states:

In Plaintiff’s view, the current information available about the grand jurors’ views is not entirely accurate—especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges. Moreover, the public characterization of the
grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with Plaintiff’s own. Plaintiff also wishes to express opinions about: whether the release of records has truly provided transparency; Plaintiff’s impression that evidence was presented differently than
in other cases, with the insinuation that Brown, not Wilson, was the wrongdoer; and questions about whether the grand jury was clearly counseled on the law.

Edward Magee, a spokesman for McCulloch, said the prosecuting attorney had no comment because he had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Read the entire lawsuit here.

TIME Crime

Ferguson Police Spokesperson Suspended for ‘Pile of Trash’ Comment

A Christmas tree is seen near a memorial to Michael Brown in Ferguson
Aaron Bernstein—Reuters A Christmas tree is seen near a memorial to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., on Dec. 25, 2014

The police department said "disciplinary proceedings" had been initiated over the remark, made to a Washington Post reporter

A spokesman for the Ferguson, Mo., police department has been suspended after he admitted calling a memorial for an unarmed black teenager shot dead by a white officer “a pile of trash,” the city said on Saturday.

Officer Timothy Zoll was put on unpaid leave when he told his superiors that the Washington Post had correctly quoted him as referring derogatorily to the stuffed animals and flowers placed where Michael Brown, 18, was killed by Officer Darren Wilson, Reuters reports.

Zoll had been the Ferguson Police Department’s spokesman on the fatal shooting, for which Wilson was not indicted. The case became a flashpoint for national protests and sparked an ongoing debate about race relations on the U.S.

Zoll had at first insisted that the Washington Post misquoted him when it cited him as referring to Brown’s memorial as “trash.” A Post reporter called Boll on Friday to ask about reports that someone had intentionally driven over the memorial, to which Zoll allegedly replied: “I don’t know that a crime has occurred. But a pile of trash in the middle of the street? The Washington Post is making a call over this?”

The city of Ferguson said in a statement that “negative remarks about the Michael Brown memorial do not reflect the feelings of the Ferguson Police Department” and reiterated the department and city’s commitment to “rebuilding a trusting relationship with he entire community.” The tribute to Brown has since been rebuilt.

[Reuters]

TIME Civil Rights

What the International Response to the Civil Rights Movement Tells Us About Ferguson

Education Segregation, USA. pic: circa 1957. Little Rock, Arkansas. National Guardsmen, having admitted white children to a school, barr the way to a black student.
Paul Popper—Popperfoto / Getty Images Little Rock, Ark., 1957: National Guardsmen, having admitted white children to a school, bar the way to a black student

International criticism during the Civil Rights Movement helped bring about new legislation

Images of armed soldiers blocking nine African-American high school students from integrating a public high school in Little Rock, Ark. shocked the world nearly 60 years ago. Organs of Soviet propaganda, determined to disrupt perceptions of a tranquil American democracy, wrote of American police “who abuse human dignity and stoop to the level of animals” in the newspaper Izvestia. In the midst of stiff Cold War competition for hearts and minds around the world, the prospect of controlling international perceptions motivated officials at the highest levels of U.S. government to support new civil rights measures.

The U.S. representative to the United Nations warned President Dwight Eisenhower that the incident had damaged American influence, and the President listened.

“Before Eisenhower sent in the troops, there were mobs around the school for weeks, keeping these high school students from going to school,” says Mary Dudziak, a professor at Emory whose book Cold War Civil Rights argues that international pressures encouraged the federal government to work to improve civil rights, and which tells the above story about Little Rock. “The issue caused people from other countries to wonder whether the U.S. had a commitment to human rights.”

Today, the highly-publicized killings of unarmed black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner have attracted similar international condemnation, and some historians wonder whether concerns about U.S. appearances around the world could once again influence the federal government.

Read More: One Man. One March. One Speech. One Dream.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the sworn enemy of the U.S., had a lot to gain by showing that American democracy wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The opposition of today’s day and age are less influential, but they appear equally eager to highlight American dysfunction. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei used the attention surrounding Michael Brown to remind his Twitter followers of America’s history on race issues. A tweet from the leader features images of police dogs in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement alongside an image of Michael Brown:

North Korea may have one of the world’s worst human rights records, but that didn’t stop the country from criticizing the U.S. for “wantonly violating the human rights where people are subject to discrimination and humiliation due to their races.”

It’s not surprising that North Korea and Iran would criticize the U.S., but the reprimanding hasn’t been limited to opponents. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said he is unsure whether the decision not to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown “conforms with international human rights law.”

“It is clear that, at least among some sectors of the population, there is a deep and festering lack of confidence in the fairness of the justice and law enforcement systems,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.

Criticism from the U.N. is significant, but the international body’s desires, much less those of North Korea or Iran, have never driven U.S. policy — and the fact is, while there are many links between the Cold War era and today, times have changed. Thus far, the President has walked a fine line in his response. He proposed some measures, including encouraging police to wear body cameras, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be proposing any game-changing legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s not surprising that Obama has hesitated to involve the federal government in what is typically a local or state issue. The international mandate simply isn’t as strong as it was during the Cold War. There’s no equivalent to the Soviet Union offering a credible alternative to America’s system of governance.

But that may not be the case forever: historians and political scientists say that a growing movement against police brutality has the potential to increase international pressure and, perhaps, force change.

“I’m sure the Obama administration and the State Department are concerned about [international perceptions],” says Rick Valelly, a political science professor at Swarthmore. “Right now it’s embarrassing, but I don’t think it’s internationally consequential.”

Movements to end police brutality don’t yet have the “same kind of legs” that the Civil Rights Movement had, Valelly says. This year’s demonstrations have been attention-grabbing — and the “Justice for All” March planned for Washington, D.C, this Saturday is certain to make headlines — but it may take many more years of sustained protest before the movement would be noticed internationally on a much larger scale, as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was. For now, experts in the field still remain optimistic about the benefits of international attention, relatively minor though it may be.

“Public diplomacy begins with listening,” says Nick Cull, a professor at the University of Southern California, “and this would be a really good time to listen.”

TIME Crime

Ferguson Protesters Try to Block Use of Tear Gas

Police Shooting Missouri
Jeff Roberson—AP An explosive device deployed by police flies in the air as police and protesters clash after tear gas was thrown on Aug. 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo.

A federal judge told cops not to use of gas to disperse crowds without proper warning

A federal judge in St. Louis ordered local police to limit their use of tear gas after Ferguson protesters filed a complaint alleging their right to peaceful assembly had been violated.

Carol Jackson, a judge in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Missouri, issued a temporary restraining order Thursday after a hearing in which protesters argued they had been gassed without warning amid peaceful protests that erupted anew last month when a grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

The ruling requires police to respect demonstrators’ rights to lawfully assemble and provide clear warning before resorting to the use of chemical agents. It represents a modest victory for the protest movement, which previously won a courtroom victory when a different judge ruled that a policy that required protesters to walk continuously was unconstitutional.

At the same time, the impact of the temporary order is limited. It applies only to Missouri, and leaves the definition of fair warning at the discretion of police. Another hearing was scheduled for next month, according to reports.

The suit argued that local law-enforcement leaders violated the constitutional rights of demonstrators who had peacefully gathered to protest the grand jury’s decision. It focused on an incident that occurred late on the night of Nov. 24, as the region erupted in the aftermath of the announcement.

According to court documents, protesters had gathered outside a St. Louis coffeehouse when officers ordered the crowd to vacate the street. “Without notice or warning,” the complaint alleges, police then began firing tear gas canisters at the crowd, some of whom ran into the coffee shop, which filled with gas. Several protesters were sickened by the fumes.

The suit was filed by six plaintiffs: four protesters, the store owner and a legal observer who witnessed the episode. Chemical agents like tear gas and smoke have been used frequently to disperse crowds during the demonstrations that have rocked the region since Brown’s death in August.

Police defended the practice and said there was no attempt to injure protesters.”We don’t go to tear gas right away. We said over a loudspeaker, ‘This is an unlawful assembly, please leave the area,'” Sam Dotson, the St. Louis police chief who was named as a defendant in the suit, told the Riverfront Times. “This is where people lose focus a little bit. When the order to disperse is given, it applies to everyone. People always say, ‘It’s not me, so I don’t have to leave.’ The challenge for law enforcement is that we don’t know who the good guys are or who the bad guys are, because the bad guys intermingle with the good guys.”

TIME Congress

See Congressional Staffers Stage a Powerful Walkout Over Grand Jury Decisions

African-American Congressional staff and others hold their hands up during a walk-out outside the House on Capitol Hill on Dec. 11, 2014 in Washington D.C.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images African-American Congressional staff and others hold their hands up during a walk-out outside the House on Capitol Hill on Dec. 11, 2014 in Washington D.C.

Staffers protest the recent grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases

Dozens of congressional staffers walked out of their offices in Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon to gather on the steps of the Capitol in a show of protest against two recent grand jury decisions in the police-invovled deaths of unarmed black men.

The staffers posed in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” position that has been used in demonstrations across the country in response to the death of Michael Brown, the Ferguson, Mo., teenager shot and killed in August by a white police officer, who was not indicted by a grand jury.

Senate Chaplain Dr. Barry Black also led the demonstrators in a prayer. “Forgive us when we have failed to lit our voices for those who could not speak or breathe themselves,” he said, invoking the last words “I can’t breathe” by Eric Garner before his chokehold-related death on Staten Island in July. A grand jury in New York recently declined to indict the police officer in the incident.

 

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