Now that the Department of Justice has issued its damning report on the range of abuses committed by the Ferguson police against African American residents, what’s to be done to remedy the situation?
This is the critical question that faces the city and the federal government, and there are no easy answers, though a couple of things would appear to be in order.
First, the African American residents of Ferguson have to continue the uptick in registering to vote in the city elections since the Michael Brown incident. Then they must go to the polls.
Blacks, according to the 2010 census represent 67 percent of the total population in Ferguson and whites 29 percent with 4 percent unknown. But when it comes to the council votes, where there is only one African American among the seven members, the Black voter turnout, documented in the 2008 elections, revealed only 35 percent to the Whites 54 percent with 11 percent unknown.
When Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said the city “must do better” on the issue of racial disparity, in response to the 105-page DOJ report, he clearly was not talking about the voter turnout, which must include more African American voters if they are to take control of the city.
Another measure that might help to eliminate the racial disparity in Ferguson is a consent decree by the DOJ. According to a report several months ago, there were some twenty cities under consent decrees because of the abuses by their police departments, including New Orleans, Detroit, Los Angeles, where a police officer shot and killed an unarmed man in the city’s skid row last week, New York City, and Cleveland where the police shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Mayor Knowles has reportedly outlined some steps to comply with the 26 recommendations from the DOJ, and diversity training and the hiring of more Black officers have been mentioned. But these are stopgap measures and will only touch on the systemic problems of policing in Ferguson.
A consent decree, in theory, is simply an agreement between parties to work toward resolution of a problem without blame being administered. This practice has been in effect for more than twenty years, most notably in 1991 following the brutal assault of Rodney King in California.
Under a consent decree the DOJ has the power to bring a lawsuit against a police department that has demonstrated a consistent pattern of excessive force, particularly in violation of citizens’ rights. The success of this provision depends on the DOJ determination of enforcement and the police chief or commissioner’s willingness to cooperate with the decree.
It has proven effective in several cities, including Cincinnati in 2001 after an incident there when a police shooting led to three days of rioting. It took several years before the decree actually took effect.
Thus far, there has been no mention of a consent decree for Ferguson but it’s a tactic the DOJ can administer if there is no compliance to recommendations they proposed.