The long awaited findings of the U.S. Justice Department investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department contained no new news for African Americans. The Department of Justice report detailing the pervasive, systemic and structural forms of racism in the police department and city government comes as no surprise to those who live out this reality every day. The African American victims of these and other oppressive racist regimes in state and local governments across this nation didn’t need the Justice Department confirmation of what we already knew. America and its cities and municipalities are rife with racism.
The Justice Department’s finding that the Ferguson police department and city’s municipal court engaged in a “pattern and practice” of discrimination against African Americans, targeting them disproportionately for traffic stops, use of force, and jail sentences is at least partial vindication for the thousands of Ferguson area residents and supporters who marched and protested after the murder of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
As reported and reviewed by CNN, among the findings from 2012 to 2014:
- 85 percent of people subject to vehicle stops by Ferguson police were African Americans;
- 90 percent of those who received citations were black;
- 93 percent of people arrested were black.
This occurred while 67% of the Ferguson population is black.
In 88 percent of the cases in which Ferguson police reported using force, it was against African Americans. During this period 2012-2014, black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops but 23 percent less likely to be found in possession of contraband. Additionally, blacks were disproportionately more likely to be cited for minor infractions: 95 percent of tickets for “manner of walking in roadway,” essentially jaywalking, were against African Americans. Also 94 percent of all “failure to comply” charges were filed against black people. African Americans were also 68 percent less likely to have their cases dismissed by a Ferguson municipal judge and overwhelmingly more likely to be arrested during traffic stops solely for an outstanding warrant by the Ferguson courts.
The illumination of these realities while welcome, is not dispositive of the long standing practice of state and local governments in balancing its financial books on the backs of blacks who are many times mired in poverty and the least able to afford these unlawful and unconstitutional violations, which are perpetrated under the guise of law and order and the public safety needs of the community. These oppressive and unconstitutional violations against African Americans are not isolated in their occurrences. Across this country, local, municipal, and state courthouses are full of black people in disproportionate numbers as compared to whites. Take a look at any representative municipal courthouse and you will find sometimes 90 to 95 percent black people, as if blacks are the only ones committing traffic violations or other crimes. Consequently, it’s no wonder why Americas’ jail cells over- represent African Americans at a rate of over 65 percent, even though we represent less than 13 percent of the general population.
This latest development in the Ferguson case is eerily reminiscent of the case of Donald Sterling, the billionaire former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise, whose racist comments ignited a social and political firestorm resulting in a forced sale of the team. We’ve seen this movie before! The cable news networks and political pundits will use their enormous social and political influence to portray the toxic racist environment in the Ferguson police department and city government as an isolated incident. This only serves to preserve a culture of systemic racism and white supremacy, while prescribing a quick fix with a few token gestures of “change” which do not address the systemic and pervasive nature of racism in every facet of American culture. This allows the system to continue unabated while the root causes of the problem remain unchecked. This is akin to treating the symptoms of a disease without addressing the cause. It’s impossible to provide an effective cure without a proper diagnosis. It’s no wonder that this country fails to make any real progress toward eradicating racial discrimination in this country.
Those who continue to profit from the culture of white supremacy see the dismantling of the centuries-old system as a threat to their monopoly on wealth and power. Look at the makeup of the U.S. House and Senate. It’s a sea of white men and white women with a darkie thrown in here or there for the sake of appearances. More than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Negro is still mired in a system of white supremacy which leaves them marginalized and oppressed. This culture of white dominance and Black subjugation filters down from the executive office through the halls of congress to state and local governments, tainting courts, administrative offices and the officials and staff that run them.
If there ever is to be real change in the cultural, structural and endemic racial inequality in America, we must first acknowledge and recognize a society that in many ways is the same as it was before the Emancipation Proclamation. Justice Taney voiced the true feelings of white America in the Dred Scott decision which denied the Negro status as a citizen: “the Negro has no rights which the white man is bound to respect.” This pronouncement by the highest court in the land undergirds the cultural and social fabric of America today, just as it did over 150 years ago when Taney purported to speak for all civilized people of the world when he called the Negro “an unfortunate race that is enslaved for his own good” White America didn’t view the Negro as an equal then, and they don’t view us as equals now. Until there is a fundamental change of this reality, the more things change, the more they will remain the same.
Now that the curtain has been pulled back, and the systemic oppression and systematic targeting of Blacks has been exposed in Ferguson, what is the remedy? A consent decree between the city of Ferguson and the Justice Department are only a start. Any true and meaningful remedy must address and redress the economic, social and psychological injuries to the tens of thousands of African Americans in Ferguson who were victimized by its racist and unjust system. Liberty and freedom was lost due to systemic and discriminatory incarceration; homes and living quarters were lost due to inability to make mortgage and car payments. Monies earmarked for food and shelter were siphoned from family budgets, to fund the corrupt city and local governments which in turn perpetuated the cycle of predatory and systemic oppression of Black people. This form of economic and cultural genocide was not done to minorities, i.e., white women, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, or any other multitude of individuals under Americas’ new smorgasbord of stated and unstated protected classes. It was done to Black people! Americas has apparently forgotten, and removed the Negro from its’ consciousness as the original minority in this country.
Ferguson is only the tip of the iceberg. These types of racist policies and structures in police departments, courts, and state and local governments, are rampant throughout this country. Every municipality is guilty and therefore culpable and responsible for the solution. Justice demands that the Federal Government not end its investigation at Ferguson, but conduct a state by state, city by city, municipality by municipality audit of policies and practices, and expose the true picture of America. The ugly truth is that the United States of America is a country rife with racism and injustice, while hiding behind the façade of fairness, human rights, and democratic values. How dare America condemn Communist, Socialist, and autocratic regimes when it continues to maintain its 400 year legacy of systemic and structural deprivation of rights and equality to the Black man? There must be a nationwide review of policies and practices of Federal, municipal, state and local governments to root out and remedy these continuing constitutional abuses.
Now that we’ve documented the problem to the extent that the racist practices cannot be rationalized or theorized beyond the cold hard facts, it’s time to fashion a remedy. Call it reparations or call it a remedy. You can call the legal and economic mechanism used to address and redress these continuing harms to African Americans whatever is most palatable to the power brokers in the halls of Congress and the Executive Branch. (Just don’t call it a hand out. This money is owed!) But whatever you call the remedy, it must be comprehensive and it must not only address the problem and the solution, but also the victims and the financial harm that they have suffered. Economic redress for the systemic, racist policies and practices of state and local governments must be a part of any solution or comprehensive remedy. No matter what the cost, no matter how long and laborious the process, if America is serious about correcting a system of governance which has engaged in patterns and practices of discrimination which are deeply rooted in the fiber and fabric of this nation, it must be done and it must be done now.
If America can spend a billion dollars a day to finance imperialist military interventions across the globe, it can afford to redress the continuing civil, constitutional, and human rights violations of its most marginalized and historically oppressed people, African American citizens.
Editor’s note: Gerald Torrence is a lawyer, educator, writer, social and political activist, and motivational speaker living in Atlanta. You can find more insightful opinions from TheTruthTeller at the-truth-teller.com. You can follow Gerald on Twitter @tttspokentruth.