WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the tensions between law enforcement and residents that erupted after the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Missouri, were unsurprising given the "toxic" environment created by the biases of the Ferguson Police Department.
The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that it would not bring federal civil rights charges against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who killed Brown in August. The DOJ also released a report that detailed the ways in which the Ferguson Police Department created fear and resentment among African-American residents in the Missouri town by disproportionately targeting them with fines, tickets and excessive force.
Holder said violations in the police department were widespread.
"According to our investigation, this emphasis on revenue generation through policing has fostered unconstitutional practices -- or practices that contribute to constitutional violations -- at nearly every level of Ferguson’s law enforcement system," he said.
Between October 2012 and 2014, blacks, who make up 67 percent of the Ferguson population, accounted for 85 percent of all traffic stops by Ferguson police and were twice as likely to be searched during a stop. Some officers, Holder said, would even compete to see who could issue the most tickets during a single stop.
Holder also detailed several instances in which Ferguson residents were unfairly targeted. In one case, Holder said, a police officer stopped a black man in his car and accused him of being a pedophile without justification. When the man refused to get out of his car -- something Holder said was within his constitutional rights -- the police officer pointed his gun at the man's head, even though he had no reason to believe he was armed.
"Clearly, these findings -- and others included in the report -- demonstrate that, although some community perceptions of Michael Brown’s tragic death may not have been accurate, the widespread conditions that these perceptions were based upon, and the climate that gave rise to them, were all too real," Holder said.
Holder added that the DOJ report recommends that the Ferguson Police Department get residents more involved in policing decisions and implement better ways of tracking "stop, search, ticketing and arrest practices." The report also recommends reforming the town's municipal court, including "modifications to bond amounts and detention procedures; an end to the use of arrest warrants as a means of collecting owed fines and fees; and compliance with due process requirements."