Ferguson Residents Not Surprised By DOJ Report Findings

Mar 4, 2015
Originally published on March 4, 2015 8:29 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We go now to NPR's Cheryl Corley in Ferguson. She's been talking with residents in the neighborhood were Michael Brown was shot and killed last summer. And Cheryl, what are you hearing?

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Well, I've been hearing a lot of emotion. I talked to people in the neighborhood where Michael Brown, as you mentioned, was killed. And there's some satisfaction that the Justice Department affirmed a lot of what the residents have been saying here for years. There was also some disappointment, but resignation that the Justice Department didn't find that Darren Wilson had violated Michael Brown's civil rights. But when it came to the Justice Department's overall report that the community was deeply polarized and there had been this systematic process of police stopping people without reasonable suspicion or arresting them without probable cause, many people I talked to said that was to be expected. And 21-year-old Terrun Jackson was one of the folks I talked to. And like so many residents, he just said he was not surprised.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TERRUM JACKSON: It ain’t the only city that target black folks, you know? It's more cities than St. Louis than that, you know? But...

CORLEY: It's more widespread.

JACKSON: Yeah.

BLOCK: Well, Cheryl, in terms of the Justice Department report, the idea is that this will be the start of a process to fix things, to reduce tensions between the mostly black population and the mostly white police force. What did people have to say about that?

CORLEY: Well, first let me say that people here like the intervention and thought the Department of Justice report was an affirmation. But they were skeptical about what could happen moving forward. They said the situation in Ferguson had been a problem for so many years that they just weren't expecting any quick resolution. But I talked to Wallace Bland, who grew up in the area. And he said even though he had his doubts, there was a possibility that the focused attention on Ferguson might make for better relations between police and the community. But I have to stress that he said that might be possible.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALLACE BLAND: We'll hope. I mean, you can pray on it, but I don't think so. I mean, it's - the Band-Aid's been ripped way before I was even born, and I'm 47. So, you know, it's going to be tough.

BLOCK: Cheryl, if the city of Ferguson does reach a settlement with the Justice Department, what might that look like?

CORLEY: Well, let's think about what's happened beyond Ferguson. The Department of Justice had conducted similar investigations of police departments in cities in the past and come up with agreements. In fact, there've been several investigations - about 20 - under Attorney General Eric Holder.

I think you can expect there will be some continued monitoring of the police department. Plus, several of the measures that came from the president's task force on 21st century policing, a report that was released earlier this week - it calls for better training and equipment and for police really to focus on de-escalating situations rather than increasing tension.

I talked with Jeffrey Mittman, the head of the ACLU here, who says when Cincinnati faced a similar situation, it just took hard work by the police and the community. They held several meetings and changes to produce what he considered a much better department. And Mittman says if it can work in Cincinnati, then it can work in Ferguson, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFFREY MITTMAN: What would be disappointing is if the metropolitan St. Louis area of Missouri said oh, it's just Ferguson. We can now go on business as usual. We can't.

CORLEY: So, Melissa, he's just saying that, you know, it's not just for Ferguson, it's for the entire region.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Cheryl Corley reporting from Ferguson, Mo. Cheryl, thanks.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.