Ferguson, Mo., Mayor James Knowles said Wednesday night that his police department is determined to work at resolving racial discrimination charges leveled by its residents and validated earlier in the day by a more-than 100-page report from the federal Department of Justice that concluded the department engages in a pattern and practice that is discriminatory.
Knowles, a Republican, said that three police supervisors who were found to have sent racist e-mails will be fully investigated, and that one has already been fired.
“Let me be clear, this type of behavior will not be tolerated in the Ferguson Police Department or in any department in the city of Ferguson,” Knowles said. “These actions taken by these individuals are in no way representative of the employees of the city of Ferguson.”
But the e-mails were a small part of a massive report that concluded that black residents were disproportionately arrested, detained and subjected to excessive force by Ferguson police officers. The mayor noted that officers have been re-trained and subjected to diversity sensitivity classes but he did not announce any wholesale changes to the department such as the removal of the police chief.
“We must do better as not only as a city, but as a state and a country,” Knowles said.
Knowles said that the city has retained a Justice Department-recommended independent consultant, but did not say whether the city will accept the department’s recommended policy changes.
As the mayor spoke, Gov. Jay Nixon (D) issued a statement of outrage at the report’s findings.
“The Department of Justice’s report on the Ferguson Police Department are deeply disturbing, and demonstrate the urgent need for the reforms I have called for, some of which the General Assembly is now considering, including reforms to municipal courts,” Nixon said. ““Discrimination has no place in our justice system and no place in a democratic society. All Missourians deserve to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. That is why I will continue to work to enact policies and legislation that promote greater fairness, equality and inclusion in all our communities.”
The comments came just hours after the Justice Department issued a scathing report that concluded that the Ferguson Police Department engages in a pattern and practice of racially discriminatory tactics, and serves primarily as a means of bringing the city revenue and not to ensure public safety.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, who many have said should resign, did not attend the press conference.
The report, details of which were first reported on Tuesday and were fully released on Wednesday morning, prompted renewed calls for Jackson to resign and for the Ferguson PD to be disbanded.
The DOJ investigations were prompted in part by massive protests that occurred following the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown. In a separate investigation, the DOJ concluded that the shooting was likely justified.
In an earlier press conference, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch said Wednesday evening that he is not surprised by DOJ’s choice to clear Wilson in the shooting, and expressed skepticism of the damning patterns and practices detailed in the report.
“To suggest that (racial profiling) is somehow all that goes on out there does a deep disservice to everybody,” McCulloch said. “We have a long way to go to rebuild trust in this community.”
McCulloch came under constant fire while a grand jury reviewed the shooting, and again when it decided against bringing charges against Wilson. Asked if he felt vindicated that the DOJ review of the shooting reached the same conclusion, McCulloch said no.
“We knew all along,” McCulloch said. “To feel vindicated by something you have to feel incriminated by something. This certainly confirms that I don’t feel any need to feel vindicated by anything.”
But while McCulloch did not discuss the Justice report at length, many across the country were outraged by its findings and insist that it should be the impetus for broad police and criminal justice reform.
“Today’s far-reaching report announced by Attorney General Holder represents an important path forward towards achieving equal justice under the law in Ferguson, Missouri, and repairing some of the deep divisions and very real disparities in local law enforcement which that good community has endured for far too long.” Rep. Lacy Clay, (D-Mo), whose district includes Ferguson, said in a statement.
“The disturbing findings in this report demand urgent remedies which must be swiftly implemented without obstruction or delay, and without further denials of the painful and undeniable facts,” Clay said in the statement. “It should serve as a template for transformational change, not just in Ferguson, but across this country. The tragedy of Mike Brown’s unnecessary death, along with the police killings of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and many others…have illuminated, with the harsh light of truth, a system of local law enforcement and criminal justice that in too many cases, does not provide equal justice under the law to persons of color in this country.”
The editorial board of the Post-Dispatch, the daily newspaper in St. Louis, declared that heads should roll in light of the Justice report.
“Let the firings (at Ferguson PD) begin,” the editorial said. “And let them begin at the top.”