The Justice Department is calling for a major overhaul of Ferguson’s criminal justice system after finding systemic discrimination against African-American residents. A comprehensive report says police disproportionately stopped, arrested and used force against blacks without reasonable suspicion, and then acted as a "collection agency" to operate off of their fines. Unveiling the probe’s findings, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder described how residents were targeted for arrest and then saddled with penalties.
Attorney General Eric Holder: "Some officers even compete to see who can issue the largest number of citations during a single stop, a total that in at least one instance rose as high as 14. And we have observed that even minor code violations can sometimes result in multiple arrests, jail time and payments that exceed the cost of the original ticket many times over. Now, for example, in 2007, one woman received two parking tickets that together totaled $152. To date, she has paid $550 in fines and fees to the city of Ferguson. She has been arrested twice for having unpaid tickets, and she has spent six days in jail. Yet today she still, inexplicably, owes Ferguson $541."
The report details many other examples of police harassment, abuse and racial profiling of African Americans. Dogs were let loose only on blacks and sometimes without warning. One man was accused of being a pedophile for sitting in his car after playing basketball in a public park. After objecting to a car search, he was arrested at gunpoint on charges that ultimately cost him his job as a federal contractor. Other instances were found of Taser attacks without cause and people called the N-word. Saying the racial bias was pervasive, Attorney General Holder demanded "wholesale and structural corrective action."
Attorney General Eric Holder: "A community where local authorities consistently approached law enforcement not as a means for protecting public safety, but as a way to generate revenue; a community where both policing and municipal court practices were found to be disproportionately harmful to African-American residents; a community where this harm frequently appears to stem, at least in part, from racial bias, both implicit and explicit. Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time. It is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action. Now let me be very clear: The United States Department of Justice reserves all of its rights and abilities to force compliance and to implement basic change. Nothing is off the table."
The Justice Department says it will take legal action if Ferguson does not comply with its demands, which include a "shift from policing to raise revenue to policing in partnership with the entire Ferguson community." In a statement, the St. Louis-based organization Don’t Shoot Coalition said: "Now that the lived experience of our community being regularly targeted and harassed by law enforcement has been acknowledged, we hope the Ferguson Police Department will be brought to justice through a DOJ lawsuit that results in federal oversight."
In response, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said he is determined to address the issues raised by the probe, but did not say whether he will comply with its demands. Knowles did announce the firing of a police supervisor found to have written racist emails and the suspension of two others.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles: "Let me be clear: This type of behavior will not be tolerated in the Ferguson Police Department or in any department of the city of Ferguson. Immediately upon leaving that meeting, the three individuals were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. One has since been terminated, and the other two are still awaiting the outcome of an internal investigation."
The probe has renewed calls for the dismissal of Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, but Knowles did not comment on his future.
In unveiling the findings on the Ferguson police, the Justice Department also confirmed police officer Darren Wilson will not face civil rights charges for the fatal shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown last August. Holder said there is not enough evidence to support a prosecution.
Attorney General Eric Holder: "The facts do not support the filing of criminal charges against Officer Darren Wilson in this case. Michael Brown’s death, though a tragedy, did not involve prosecutable conduct on the part of Officer Wilson. Now, this conclusion represents the sound, considered and independent judgment of the expert career prosecutors within the Department of Justice. I have been personally briefed on multiple occasions about these findings. I concur with the investigative team’s judgment and the determination about our inability to meet the required federal standard."
Wilson avoided criminal prosecution after a grand jury declined to indict him in November. The Justice Department’s rejection of federal civil rights charges against Wilson comes just days after it reached the same conclusion for George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot dead unarmed African-American teen Trayvon Martin three years ago last month. In a statement, Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., said: "While we are saddened by this decision, we are encouraged that the DOJ will hold the Ferguson Police Department accountable for the pattern of racial bias and profiling they found in their handling of interactions with people of color. It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country. If that change happens, our son’s death will not have been in vain."
In Syria, dozens of people are dead following a rebel attack on a government intelligence building in the embattled city of Aleppo. Jihadist groups including the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front have claimed responsibility. It comes just days after opposition fighters rejected a temporary truce in Aleppo, saying they would not accept any deal that keeps Bashar al-Assad in power.
U.S. and Iranian negotiators have reported progress in their bid to reach a nuclear deal before a March 31 deadline. The talks will reconvene on March 15 after concluding on Wednesday. The advances come as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has returned to Israel following his trip to Washington seeking to stop the deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that while gaps remain, negotiators are resisting the pressure of "warmongers" and "scaremongers."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif: "We are not far from reaching an agreement. There are gaps that need to be filled, serious ones. But that doesn’t mean that we are not capable of moving forward. We have one very serious problem, and that is, there is a great deal of pressure that is being imposed by warmongers, by scaremongers, who are trying to prevent a deal by scaremongering tactics, by lying, by demagoguery. And that is an impediment to the necessary atmosphere that is required to reach a deal."
Netanyahu sought to undermine the deal by speaking before Congress, which could potentially block any easing of U.S.-led sanctions under the potential agreement.
The Republican-controlled Senate has failed to override President Obama’s veto of a measure approving construction of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. Obama rejected the bill last week to allow for the completion of a State Department review.
A former New Jersey environmental official says the office of Gov. Chris Christie pushed through a favorable settlement that potentially saved the oil giant ExxonMobil billions of dollars. Last week, New Jersey quietly agreed to accept just $250 million from Exxon after initially seeking $8.9 billion for environmental contamination more than a decade ago. The settlement came just two months after the state attorney general’s office made a strong demand for the original $8.9 billion claim, saying in a court brief: "The scope of the environmental damage resulting from the discharges is as obvious as it is staggering and unprecedented in New Jersey." Writing today in The New York Times, Bradley Campbell, the former commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, says Governor Christie’s chief counsel, Christopher Porrino, "inserted himself into the case, elbowed aside the attorney general and career employees who had developed and prosecuted the litigation, and cut the deal favorable to Exxon."