This article is Part I in a two-part series from Gerald Torrence on Racism Exposed.
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% of people subject to vehicle stops by Ferguson police were African Americans;
90% of those who received citations were black;
93% of people arrested were black.
This occurred while 67% of the Ferguson population is black.
In 88% 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% less likely to be found in possession of contraband. Additionally, blacks were disproportionately more likely to be cited for minor infractions: 95% of tickets for “manner of walking in roadway,” essentially jaywalking, were against African Americans. Also 94% of all “failure to comply” charges were filed against black people. African Americans were also 68% 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% 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%, even though we represent less than 13% 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.
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.