The Justice Department is nearly finished with what the New York Times calls “a highly critical report accusing the police in Ferguson, Mo., of making discriminatory traffic stops of African-Americans that created years of racial animosity leading up to an officer's shooting of a black teenager last summer.” The report criticizes the city for disproportionately ticketing and arresting African-Americans and relying on the fines to balance the city's budget. The report will force Ferguson officials to negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department or be sued by it on civil rights charges.
The result is likely to be significant changes for the police department at the center of a national debate over race and policing. Blacks accounted for 86 percent of the city’s traffic stops in 2013 but make up 63 percent of the population. Once they were stopped, black drivers were twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband. For people in Ferguson who cannot afford to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops can become long ordeals, with repeated jailings because of mounting fines. Such fines are the city's second-largest source of revenue after sales taxes. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III has criticized Attorney General Eric Holder for declaring that wholesale change was needed in Ferguson's police department.i