Justice Department’s Ferguson report resonates across the US
SEATTLE (AP) — Felix Vargas read the Justice Department’s report on Ferguson, Missouri, and thought some of it sounded familiar: a mostly white police department overseeing a mostly minority town; questionable uses of force; officers ill-equipped to deal with mentally ill residents.
They’re the same issues his heavily Hispanic community, the agricultural city of Pasco in Washington state, has confronted since the fatal police shooting of an immigrant farmworker last month.
“We know Pasco is only the most recent area where this has happened,” said Vargas, chairman of a local Hispanic business organization called Consejo Latino. “We have a national problem. We continue to struggle with this issue of policing.”
Ferguson has become a symbol of the tensions between minorities and police departments nationwide since Darren Wilson, a white officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, last year.
The Justice Department cleared Wilson of criminal wrongdoing, but in its report last week, it made numerous allegations against the city’s police department that included racial disparities in arrests, bigotry and profit-driven law enforcement — essentially using the black community to support the city’s budget through fines.
Residents in some communities across the U.S. say they face the same struggles with their police departments and city leadership.
President Barack Obama addressed the issue Friday on the eve of the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when police beat scores of people at a civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. While not typical, the issues raised in the Ferguson report also were not isolated, he said.
On Saturday, protesters took to the streets in Madison, Wisconsin, after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 19-year-old by a white police officer, chanting “Black Lives Matter.” Authorities said the police officer fired his weapon after he was assaulted. The officer was placed on administrative leave pending results of an investigation.
“These communities are vulnerable because they don’t believe the law is there to protect them,” said Kevin Jones, a black, 36-year-old Iraq war veteran who lives in Saginaw, Michigan, a once predominantly white city that’s now about half black. He recalled being pulled over and arrested in 2011 for having his music too loud in the wrong part of town. The noise complaint was dropped when an officer failed to show for his hearing, but Jones said he still had to pay to get his car back.
Saginaw’s police force, which is three-quarters white, came under scrutiny after officers killed a homeless, mentally ill, black man in 2012 when he refused to drop a knife. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has called for the Justice Department to conduct a review of the department’s practices.
Community leaders in Anaheim, California, have also been seeking a federal review of their department. Demonstrators rioted over two officer-involved shootings in 2012, and residents said Hispanics seemed to be singled out by police in a city that had gone from mostly white when Disneyland in the 1950s was built to mostly Latino.
Jose Moreno, president of Los Amigos of Orange County, a Latino community group, said he didn’t believe the overt profiling uncovered in Ferguson occurred in Anaheim, but unless there’s a federal investigation he may never know.
Jeff Karoub in Detroit and Amy Taxin in Tustin, California, contributed to this report.