DOJ Report Reveals Pattern Of Racial Discrimination By Ferguson Police

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The Justice Department says it has formally closed its investigation into the death of Michael Brown without bringing any federal charges against the police officer who killed him. But the department did find evidence of both indirect and direct discrimination by the Ferguson Police Department and courts.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Justice Department has issued its much anticipated findings in its investigation of Ferguson, Mo. And that's where we begin this hour. As expected, the department announced it will not bring criminal charges against former police officer Darren Wilson. But in a speech today, Attorney General Eric Holder said law enforcement practices in the St. Louis suburb have to change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: This investigation found a community that was deeply polarized, a community where a deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents.

BLOCK: And with us now is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. And Carrie, we talked about this yesterday. You confirmed that Officer Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, would not face federal prosecution. Today, a lengthy report from Justice Department explaining why. What did they say?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: So authorities met Melissa with Michael Brown's family, the 18-year-old black man who was killed by Officer Wilson last year earlier today to explain the decision. Here's what the feds had to say. The Justice Department said it found no evidence they can rely on to disprove Officer Wilson's testimony. The officer said he feared for his safety, and Justice found physical evidence - including evidence of a struggle for the gun inside the officer's car and more evidence that Michael Brown had gone on to charge - physically charged - Officer Darren Wilson - all seem to back up the policeman's account. And of other witnesses, Melissa, who back last year said Michael Brown had his hands in the air as if to surrender - Justice found to be not credible.

BLOCK: OK, so no criminal charges, but let's talk about the separate report into a broader pattern of civil rights abuses by the Ferguson police and also the local court. The Justice Department found a pattern of discrimination, both direct and indirect.

JOHNSON: So let's take the indirect evidence first. Some of the data we talked about yesterday, Melissa - 67 percent of people in Ferguson are African-American, but they account for more than 90 percent of traffic stops and arrests. Also a huge number - a disproportionate number - of people arrested and ticketed for petty crimes like jaywalking and parking. These laws are overwhelmingly enforced against black people, but not white counterparts, especially ones with friends in the municipal court system in Ferguson. And then, Melissa, of course, there's use of force - of 160 incidents of use of force. The police chief told Justice he can't remember a time when he ever disciplined a police officer there.

BLOCK: And also, Carrie, direct evidence of racial bias. We're talking about email messages that the Justice Department said were derogatory and dehumanizing.

JOHNSON: New email, today, Melissa - email sent to and from police and court officer supervisors in Ferguson during the workday on official accounts. One message depicts President Obama as a chimpanzee, another is an image of bare-chested African women captioned "Michelle Obama's high school reunion." Rather than stopping these messages, the Justice Department says supervisors in Ferguson seem to find them funny.

BLOCK: How likely is it, Carrie, that the Justice Department will sue Ferguson and the police department?

JOHNSON: Civil rights lawyers tell me Justice really wants to settle this case to save time and money that would be best spent fixing problems in Ferguson. But if Ferguson police and the city is not willing to work out a deal, it's possible Justice would sue to make changes that would require an independent monitor and some kind of judicial oversight.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks very much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.