While the Department of Justice has chosen not to bring criminal charges against Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson—who fatally shot Black teenager Michael Brown last year—the DOJ has found evidence of rampant racial bias on that city’s police force.
The DOJ spent the last six months investigating Ferguson’s police department, examining arrest and ticketing records and reading emails sent within the department. Investigators found that while African Americans make up 67 percent of the city’s population, they account for 90 percent of tickets and 93 percent of arrests.
Plus, according to a report in The New York Times, emails showed an attitude of casual racism among department staff:
In a November 2008 email, a city official said Barack Obama would not be president long because ‘what Black man holds a steady job for four years?’ Another email included a cartoon depicting African Americans as monkeys. A third described Black women having abortions as a way to curb crime.
“I’ve known it all my life about living out here,” said Angel Goree, a Ferguson resident who lives in an apartment building near where Brown was killed. Commenting on the DOJ’s decision not to charge Wilson, she added, “If the Justice Department doesn’t take it to the full extent of the law, it’s not going to be one iota of a change.”
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, city officials claimed in a court filing that 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot to death by a police officer, was at fault for his own death because he failed to “to exercise due care to avoid injury” while playing with a toy gun in a park. A local resident had called authorities to report that the boy was in the park with a gun, though the caller said it was likely a toy. An officer shot Rice mere moments after arriving at the park without making any attempt to defuse the situation.
In the current issue of Ms., executive editor Kathy Spillar offers up one way to potentially reduce police violence like that seen in Ferguson and Cleveland: Hire more women officers. Spillar writes that decades of research has shown women are significantly less likely to use excessive or deadly force than male officers, though they encounter “similar proportions of citizens who [are] dangerous, angry, upset, drunk or violent.”
In her op-ed, Spillar implores the DOJ to look not only at racism in police hiring practices but also gender discrimination, and to push for policies that would remove barriers to women’s employment in law enforcement.
To read more about the need for women in law enforcement pick up our Winter 2015 issue.
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