In November 2012, after a car chase, police immediately fired 137 rounds into a car with an unarmed black man and woman inside. The driver took 23 bullets in the summary execution; the female passenger 24. 104 of 277 Cleveland police on duty that night came to savor the moment.
Cleveland is just one of several cities that has had to pay millions to recompense for unlawful murders by law enforcement officials. Upon belated investigation, the US Justice Department found a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force that violate basic constitutional precepts” by the Cleveland police department. For American police, that is par for the course.
Yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. ~ Barack Obama, in reference to Ferguson
Ferguson is a town near St. Louis. In 1990, Ferguson was 75% white. By 2010, 65% of Ferguson’s population of 21,000 was black.
Meantime, the racial composition of the Ferguson police department had not much changed. It was 95% white and distrusted by the majority who lived there.
There were numerous incidents of police abuse before events put Ferguson on the national news. At the time, the white mayor did not think there was any racial divide in his town.
Between 2012 and 2014, 93% of the arrests were of black people. 90% of the force used by police was against blacks. All bites delivered by police dogs were to black residents.
85% of drivers stopped by police were black and were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched. Yet black drivers were 27% less likely to possess illegal substances.
Black drivers were much more likely than whites to be cited for driving offenses via police observation rather than detected by radar or similar technology.
Ferguson police and court staff have been fond of entertaining one another by sending racist emails. This includes senior officials. So far, so typical. Then a policeman executing a young man ignited the black community.
On 9 August 2014, Darren Wilson, a white policeman, gunned down Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. The encounter was over in 90 seconds.
That is some bullshit. How does it justify 6 bullets in him? It’s just wrong. ~ Ferguson resident Nestlé Webster
Wilson then confronted Ferguson resident Mike Arman, who filmed the shooting while sitting on his porch. Wilson ordered Arman to stop taking pictures, telling him “I’m gonna lock your ass up.”
When Arman refused, Wilson made good his threat. Charges were ultimately dropped, as filming police officers carrying out their duties is protected by the 1st Amendment.
That evening, residents made a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles on the spot where Brown died. An unidentified policeman let his dog piss on the memorial, which police vehicles later crushed.
The police have no respect at all for the community. ~ Ferguson resident Sierra Smith
The next day, a peaceful memorial gathering turned riotous, with vehicles and stores looted and burned. Riot police responded savagely, further inflaming residents.
Protests followed the next several days, whereupon riot police brutalized protesters, including forcibly stopping journalists from recording the proceedings before abusively arresting them.
Militarization of the police escalated the protesters’ response. ~ St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson on the Ferguson riots
State politicians expressed dismay at police handling of the protests. 65% of black Americans thought the police went too far; only 33% of whites agreed.
Within days, policing of Ferguson was taken over by the state highway patrol. Its black captain joined in a peaceful protest march on the evening of 14 August.
Still, the riotous pillaging continued. Law enforcement response was more military tactics, which is all they knew to do. The National Guard was called in, but they too were ineffectual in quelling the rage against the racist government in Ferguson.
In the months that followed, Ferguson police further militarized. There was no effort by law enforcement to establish a dialogue with citizens that might reduce tensions.
In November 2014, the decision to not indict the policeman who killed Brown initiated further protests.
The furor continued for over a year after the initial murder. Police continued to commit violence against black residents, both physical and economic.
Ferguson’s court is running a debtors’ prison. ~ American civil rights lawyer Brendan Roediger
The white-run city continued its long-standing practice of preying upon minorities by maliciously ticketing and arresting them to extort monies, with the local judiciary playing along. This racist predatory pattern is not limited to Ferguson. It is standard operating procedure throughout St. Louis county, and in many towns across the country.
In the aftermath of the riots, a Justice Department investigation found that Ferguson’s police department and court system “reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias.”
Seen in context – amid a highly toxic environment, defined by mistrust and resentment, stoked by years of bad feelings, and spurred by illegal and misguided practices – it is not difficult to imagine how a single tragic incident set off the city of Ferguson like a powder keg. ~ US Attorney General Eric Holder