The Justice Department Is Going All-Out on Ferguson

The Justice Department Is Going All-Out on Ferguson
Source: AP
Source: AP

The Department of Justice is ready to investigate Ferguson, Mo., — and it's not going to stop at the Michael Brown shooting.

The federal inquiry will go back several years and assess the city's police department as a whole, in addition to Brown's death, the Associated Press reports. This means taking a close look at the allegations of past brutality and discrimination that had been leveled at the city in the resulting protests.

The investigation, which has not yet been formally announced, may not even stop there. The Department of Justice could expand its efforts to look into nearby jurisdictions, according to the New York Times.

The reaction: Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson told the New York Times the investigation was a good thing. (Although, after the past few weeks, complaining about the investigation wouldn't be the wisest of PR moves.)

"We've been doing everything we can to become a professional police department and a professional city," Jackson told the New York Times. "We have no intentional policies or procedures which discriminated or violated civil rights. But if we have anything there which may unintentionally do that, we need to know about it."

Local politicians also welcomed the feds. Missouri State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, whose district includes Ferguson, told the Washington Post that expanding the investigation to include the entire police department is "a great thing."

"Because of the Michael Brown situation, I have been getting other emails and phone calls and tweets about other individuals who have allegations of police brutality," she said. "I've literally had to pull my staff from Jefferson City and put them in Ferguson because of the number of people who are saying they've had past issues with the police."

More to do: The Department of Justice probe isn't the only one being launched by the government. The FBI also has a civil rights investigation planned, per President Obama's wishes.

Five current and one former Ferguson police officer face claims of use of excessive force in pending federal lawsuits, according to the Washington Post. Those accompany numerous internal investigations into the Aug. 9 shooting and its aftermath, when militarized police cracked down on protesters (and journalists) with tear gas, rubber bullets and plenty of arrests. Another looming decision is the grand jury investigation into Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown. Jurors will decide whether Wilson should be charged.

As a report from ArchCity Defenders explains, allegations of discrimination are not limited to anecdotal evidence. While black residents make up two-thirds of Ferguson's population, 86% of those stopped by police are black. While whites were actually more likely to produce contraband when searched, police searched blacks twice as often.

A full-scale investigation won't erase those figures from the stats sheets or public consciousness. But it might go a long way toward reforming police departments in Ferguson and elsewhere.

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Matt Connolly

Matt has written for Mother Jones, the Washington Examiner and Chicago Public Radio among many others. He's a resident of Washington, D.C., but much like Bruce Springsteen and pork roll he is a product of New Jersey.

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