The U.S. Justice Department issued a scathing rebuke of the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department this week. The pattern of racial bias outlined in the report – of African-Americans unfairly and disproportionately targeted by the police as part of the quest to generate revenue – explains why residents were so quick to assume that officer Darren Wilson was guilty when he shot and killed an unarmed Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
While the Justice Department condemned the department as a whole, it cleared Wilson of wrongdoing in Brown’s death. This wasn’t a case of “we wish we could charge him with a crime but the law won’t allow it.” The report concludes, just as a St. Louis County grand jury did, that Wilson’s use of deadly force was reasonable. Wilson said he fired his gun because he felt his life was in danger from Brown, and his story matched the physical evidence and eyewitness testimony deemed credible.
The early reports that Brown had his hands up and was trying to surrender when Wilson shot him simply weren’t true.
The Ferguson story is a cautionary tale for police departments everywhere. Policing needs to be about public safety, not writing tickets to make money, and the law needs to be applied equally to all people regardless of their race. Failure to do those things can result in people thinking of the police as their enemies rather than teammates, and that, in turn, can lead to tragedy and turbulence.
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