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The Ferguson Report Shows Exactly What Living in a Police State Is Like

We now have specific examples of what it's like to be black and live there—and it sounds a lot like being a character in a dystopian novel.

by Allie Conti
Mar 4 2015, 8:30pm

Kids hold up their hands at the site of the memorial to Michael Brown in Ferguson last August. Photo by Alice Speri/VICE News

On Tuesday, several media outlets began leaking bits of information from the report from the federal probe on the Ferguson Police Department, which has been eagerly awaited since the probe was launched last September. Today, the report was officially released, and it details how city officials and police officers systematically and routinely violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights of citizens, motivated both by the desire to increase revenue and, of course, straight-up bigotry.

Although there are 54 officers in the Ferguson Police Department, only four are African American. This is largely out of step with the city's population, which has changed greatly in the past 20 years to become 67 percent black. Although we knew before today that the Department of Justice was going to slam Ferguson, we now know for sure that, for example, "partly as a consequence of city and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson's predominately African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue," as the report's authors put it.

We also now have specific examples of what it's like to be black and live there—and it sounds a lot like being a character in a dystopian novel. According to the report, cops in Ferguson regularly engaged in "ped checks" or "Terry stops"—slang for stopping and searching people for no discernible reason. Here's one of many instances the DOJ found in which citizens were treated like dollar signs by cops:

In the summer of 2012, a 32-year-old African-American man sat in his car cooling off after playing basketball in a Ferguson public park. An officer pulled up behind the man's car, blocking him in, and demanded the man's social security number and identification.

Without any cause, the officer accused the man of being a pedophile, referring to the presence of children in the park, and ordered the man out of his car for a pat-down, although the officer had no reason to believe the man was armed. The officer also searched the man's car. The man objected, citing his constitutional rights.

In response, the officer arrested the man, reportedly at gunpoint, charging him with eight violations of Ferguson's municipal code. One charge, Making a False Declaration, was for intitially providing the short form of his first name (e.g. "Mike" instead of "Michael"). and an address which, although legitimate, was different from the one on his driver's license. Another charge was for not wearing a seat belt, even though he was seated in a parked car. The officer also charged the man both with having an expired operator's license, and with having no operator's license in his possession.

The man lost his government contracting job as a result of the arrests, according to the report.

Another example came in March 2013, when officers went to the station to take custody of a guy wanted on a state warrant:

When they arrived, they encountered a different man—not the subject of the warrant—who happened to be leaving the station. Having nothing to connect the man to the warrant subject, other than his presence at the station, the officers nonetheless stopped him and asked him to identify himself. The man asserted his rights, asking the officers, "Why do you need to know?" and declining to be frisked. When the man then extended his identification toward the officers, at their request, the officers interpreted his hand motion as an attempted assault and took him to the ground.

And these kinds of arrests-for-the-sake-of-arrests don't spare children, according to the report's documentation of a February 2014 incident in which officers responded to a group of African American teenage girls "play fighting" after school:

When one of the schoolgirls gave the middle finger to a white witness who had called the police, an officer ordered her over to him. One of the girl's friends accompanied her. Though the friend had the right to be present and observe the situation... the officers ordered her to leave and then attempted to arrest her when she refused.

Parents taking their kids to the park aren't safe either, per an incident that took place in June 2014. A pair of African American parents apparently allowed their small children to urinate in the bushes next to their parked car, which went bad quickly:

An officer stopped them, threatened to cite them for allowing the children to "expose themselves," and checked the father for warrants. When the mother asked if the officer had to detain the father in front of the children, the officer turned to the father and said, "You're going to jail because your wife keeps running her mouth." The mother then began recording the officer on her cell phone. The officer became irate, declaring, "You don't videotape me!" As the officer drove away with the father in custody for "parental neglect," the mother drove after them, continuing to record. The officer then pulled over and arrested her for traffic violations. When the father asked the officer to show mercy, he responded, "No more mercy since she wanted to videotape," and declared "Nobody videotapes me."

After posting bond, the couple saw the video had been deleted from the phone.

Besides this recurring pattern of pulling over, provoking, and then arresting black people on bullshit charges, there are also terrifying anecdotes about the misuse of police dogs and Tasers that disproportionately affect African Americans.

"There is a recurring pattern of officers claiming they had to use a canine to extract a suspect hiding in a closed space," the authors of the report concluded, offering the example of a 16-year-old boy accused of stealing a car who ran and hid in the closet of a vacant house, only to be dragged out of the enclosed space by the legs by a canine unit.

There's another whole section about people people shot with electricity, with one example being a man who was detained without reason in January 2013. The cop electrocuted him once, and then claimed that the man tried to stand up, so he jolted him again for 20 seconds. However, there was a video on the device that proved this was completely unnecessary, even if the cop had reason to stop the man. "The video makes clear, however, that the man never tried to stand—he only writhed in pain on the ground," the report states.

There are many, many more examples of cops making unlawful and forceful arrests in Ferguson in the report. If you've ever been curious about what it's like to live in a legit police state, you can read the whole thing here.

What's more, the city doesn't offer a community service option for arrestees, which means that poor people slapped with trumped-up or outright false charges often get stuck in a vicious cycle of missing court payments and ending back in jail.

This seems to be exactly what the city wanted. In March 2011, the police chief reported to the city manager that court revenue in February was $179,862.50, and that the total "beat our next biggest month in the past four years by $17,000. "Wonderful!" the city manager responded.

The city will either pay a settlement or likely face a lawsuit by the government.

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