Report Finds Ferguson Polarized But Mayor Says Change Is Underway

Mar 5, 2015
Originally published on March 5, 2015 10:11 am
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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One question in Ferguson this morning is whether the Justice Department report that came out yesterday will help the Missouri community heal or whether it will stoke more anger. The report is scathing, saying police in the city often viewed African-Americans as, quote, "potential offenders and sources of revenue." Some residents say the memory of 18-year-old Michael Brown, fatally shot by a police officer last year, is too fresh, making it hard to believe tensions will go away anytime soon. The mayor of Ferguson has promised change in the community. Let's turn to Ferguson and NPR's Cheryl Corley.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: I'm standing on Canfield Drive in Ferguson where the memorial for Michael Brown still exists. A huge pile of teddy bears on a sidewalk and in the middle of the street, more teddy bears and flowers and traffic cones.

AURELLIA DAVIS: Oh, the memorial will be here. As a matter of fact, my husband just cleaned it out.

CORLEY: Twenty-three-year-old Aurellia Davis lives nearby and says residents want to make sure the tribute to Brown stays intact.

DAVIS: It's a symbol of what's going on with the black people here. War is being waged on us.

CORLEY: Attorney General Eric Holder put it another way, saying that a Department of Justice investigation found that the St. Louis suburb issued traffic tickets overwhelmingly to blacks to boost city revenue, used police as a collection agency and created a culture of distrust that exploded last August when white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed, black, 18-year-old Michael Brown to death.

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ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: This investigation found a community that was deeply polarized, a community where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents.

CORLEY: Brown's killing led to months of street protests and a national debate on race. U.S. officials confirmed they didn't find sufficient evidence to charge Darren Wilson with violating Michael Brown's civil rights. Brown's parents said that was a disappointing decision, but they hope the report would bring change to Ferguson and other parts of the country. At his press conference, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said the city is changing. He said Ferguson has hired black court personnel and he set up a task force that will develop a citizens review board.

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MAYOR JAMES KNOWLES: That will review complaints and provide citizen input into the policies and procedures of the Ferguson Police Department.

CORLEY: And Knowles also said shocking emails quoted in the report were written by three police department employees. The emails included racially disparaging remarks about President Obama and others.

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KNOWLES: This type of behavior will not be tolerated in the Ferguson Police Department or in any department of the city of Ferguson.

CORLEY: Knowles says one of those workers has been fired. The others are still being investigated. Ferguson resident 22-year-old Cynthia West calls the DOJ report a step in the right direction. But she has her doubts that it or the changes the mayor announced will mean less tension between police and many of the city's black residents in her neighborhood.

CYNTHIA WEST: I mean, it's all a healing process. The police has to, I guess, first show us that they're worthy of our trust and you can just go from there. But everything takes time. It's not even been a year yet, you know, since everything happened.

CORLEY: Meantime, a spokesman for the St. Louis Police Officers Association says rather than focusing on racial bias, there should be a frank discussion about why kids like Michael Brown end up in deadly confrontations with police. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Ferguson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.