This Wednesday the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) released a hundred-page report finding the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) guilty of unconstitutional law enforcement practices.
The report revealed that the FPD saw revenue generation, not public safety, as its main goal; that it issued baseless fines and did so disproportionately to African Americans; that it abused force (particularly tasers and police dogs) and did so disproportionately to African Americans; that the municipal court system placed an unnecessary burden on defendants, particularly by issuing arrest warrants for failure to pay fines; and that discretionary power was abused across the board to hurt African Americans.
Now that the DoJ has publicized its opinion, the FPD will be faced with three choices: accept DoJ reforms, disband or face lawsuit. If the FPD did accept DoJ reforms, the police department would be monitored by the DoJ over the course of seven years as it gutted its current system at its own expense.
Regardless of what Ferguson chooses to do, one huge question remains: what will happen to the rest of St. Louis County?
While the DoJ did not collect data on racial profiling for other St. Louis municipalities, it did find that the culture of superfluous fining to generate revenue is common to St. Louis County.
Even if other St. Louis municipalities do not engage in racial profiling (a dubious proposition), such a system would unnecessarily burden poorer residents, as they do not have the disposable income to pay fines and cannot always get off of work to appear in municipal court. The DoJ report acknowledges this.
And in a press conference announcing the report, Attorney General Eric Holder said he would “engage with the city of Ferguson—and surrounding municipalities—to reform their law enforcement practices.”
Yet except in reference to one specific Missouri State Law, the DoJ’s decision never asks a single institution other than the FPD to reform. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem like FPD even has the power to cause change in a municipality other than Ferguson based on this investigation.
So where does this leave residents of Ferguson? Even if the FPD were to be completely reformed, Ferguson residents would only have to walk a few miles from their houses in order to be subject to an indistinguishably crippling system of law enforcement. It would be a small improvement indeed.
More importantly, what happens to African Americans throughout St. Louis, a city defined by gentrification, segregation and abusive law enforcement on a deep level?
The DoJ was correct in its findings against Ferguson. But St. Louis County cannot get complacent just because those bad guys at FPD were firmly scolded. St. Louis, we’ve got a lot of work to do.