I may be four and a half thousand kilometers away, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to the aftermath of the damning Department of Justice report on policing practices in the broken community of Ferguson, Missouri.
In The Shocking Finding From the DOJ’s Ferguson Report That Nobody Has Noticed published yesterday in the Huffington Post, Nathan Robinson and Oren Nimni point out that nearly every citizen of Ferguson, Missouri, is wanted for a crime.
That may seem like hyperbole, but it is a literal fact. In Ferguson — a city with a population of 21,000 — 16,000 people have outstanding arrest warrants, meaning that they are currently actively wanted by the police. In other words, if you were to take four people at random, the Ferguson police would consider three of them fugitives.
While that sinks in, as a point of comparison, they offer:
To give some context as to how truly extreme this is, a comparison may be useful. In 2014, the Boston Municipal Court System, for a city of 645,000 people, issued about 2,300 criminal warrants. The Ferguson Municipal Court issued 9,000, for a population 1/30th the size of Boston’s.
Those figures reveal that beyond the institutionalized racism and shakedowns that targeted and fleeced the African-American community there for years, Ferguson was quite literally operating as a police state.
As others have noted, the Ferguson courts appear to work as an orchestrated racket to extract money from the poor. The thousands upon thousands of warrants that are issued, according to the DOJ, are “not to protect public safety but rather to facilitate fine collection.” Residents are routinely charged with minor administrative infractions. Most of the arrest warrants stem from traffic violations, but nearly every conceivable human behavior is criminalized. An offense can be found anywhere, including citations for “Manner of Walking in Roadway,” “High Grass and Weeds,” and 14 kinds of parking violation. The dystopian absurdity reaches its apotheosis in the deliciously Orwellian transgression “failure to obey.” (Obey what? Simply to obey.) In fact, even if one does obey to the letter, solutions can be found. After Henry Davis was brutally beaten by four Ferguson officers, he found himself charged with “destruction of official property” for bleeding on their uniforms.
The Chief of Police was allowed to resign, with a year’s severance pay and benefits.
Image: A balsy tag on a wall of a Community Police precinct in Quito, Ecuador, 14-Mar-2015. The blog’s 426th straight Pic du Jour.