The shooting of Black teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in 2014 sparked public outrage nationwide over the systemic racially-biased policies of law enforcement agencies in the United States. Now the US Justice Department has released a comprehensive report that validates much of the criticism aimed at the Ferguson Police Department; and the failure to indict Officer Darren Wilson who shot Brown. Even the United Nations condemned the handling of the situation. Racial tensions between law enforcement and low-income black communities has long been a point of concern in the United States, As the Justice Department concedes, the protests were “a manifestation of the long-standing tension between the Ferguson [Police Department] and the African American community.”
In its handling of the protests, the Justice Department cites the Ferguson Police Department in many areas including antagonizing the crowds of protesters, violating Constitutionally-protected free speech rights, making it difficult to hold officers accountable for their actions, inappropriately using tear gas (a crowd dispersal technique), withholding information that should be made public, and using military-style equipment on protesters. Police violence and aggression against poor people of color communities was simply pushed into the mainstream conversation due to the mass protests that ensued. It was so soon after the very public Trayvon Martin trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman and came on the heels of other very high profile cases, including the murder-by-chokehold of Eric Garner by the NYPD and the protests that ensued, the shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and many other cases. The report acknowledges systemic flaws in the law-enforcement culture and practices in the United States that have been in place long before Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin. It acknowledges the cracks in the system that have enabled a harrowing statistic: an unarmed black man is shot by police once every 28 hours.
Today, local and state police departments receive equipment and training from the US military – two institutions which are supposed to have completely different purposes, and the conflation of the two is a troubling phenomenon. Concerns have been raised about the sending of staff from police departments in the US send staff to Israel for training and workshops with the IDF, a force cited by human rights groups as engaging in misconduct and serious abuses; some of which were investigated as potential war crimes by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Police departments’ relationships with their constituents should be based on trust and accountability, and all these things back it impossible for low-income colored minorities to trust law enforcement. The Justice Department, in its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department agrees, saying “the lack of trust between the Ferguson Police Department and a significant portion of Ferguson’s residents, especially African Americans, has become undeniable.”