The Department of Justice has cleared the police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Missouri in August last year. Nonetheless, it also called for sweeping changes as findings of its investigation released on Wednesday laid bare racist law enforcement practices in the area.
Officer Darren Wilson has been cleared of federal civil rights charges for killing Brown, but the Department of Justice has also called for changes in the city as it found that authorities have routinely violated the rights of black citizens.
The DOJ's investigation found that police officers more often issue tickets to black drivers, generating millions of dollars in revenue, exchange racist emails and use what investigators described as excessive force on individuals who were stopped for minor and even non-existent offenses.
Attorney General Eric Holder said that the department has found that the community was deeply polarized, and that the interaction between residents and the police are characterized by deep distrust and hostility.
The report says that some police officers seem to view some residents, particularly those living in neighborhoods predominantly occupied by African-Americans, as lesser constituents to be protected, and also see them as a source of revenue and potential offenders.
Some of the emails of the current Ferguson officials that were sent over the past several years are also marked by racial bias, with one of the emails depicting President Barack Obama as a chimpanzee.
The report likewise reveals several instances of police officers abusing their power. An officer, for instance, charged somebody with violating the municipal code by saying that his name was "Mike" instead of "Michael." That person said that he lost his job because of that charge.
The investigation also showed the incompetency of officers, many of whom do not have tools for de-escalating emotionally charged scenes. The DOJ investigation also found bias among officials who are guilty of routinely dismissing parking tickets for colleagues, acquaintances and friends.
Despite racist practices in Ferguson, DOJ officials said that they believe that Ferguson can fix its problems and that the problem does not just occur in the area. A DOJ official said that there are other municipalities engaged in similar practices. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said that there are already steps taken to address the problems.
"We must do better not only as a city, but as a state and a country," Knowles said.
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