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April 11, 2016

During assembly on Monday, April 11, Charlotte Wiland '16 provided an update of the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation of Ferguson's criminal justice system. Her presentation was a continuation of the Current Events Initiative, a club established to share objective reports on timely local, regional and national issues. Charlotte's remarks follow:

In the aftermath of the police shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014 and the subsequent protests, the United States Department of Justice investigated the underlying causes of the tension in Ferguson. The DOJ’s purpose is to enforce United States laws. The DOJ conducted an investigation to determine any unconstitutional acts by Ferguson’s government. In this case, the DOJ found that the government of Ferguson was violating the first, fourth and fourteenth amendments. Some of the problems included unreasonable stops, arrests and use of force by police officers.

In February, the Department of Justice asked Ferguson to comply with a consent decree, which would rectify some structural injustices in Ferguson’s government. In a consent decree two parties go to court and say, “We don’t want to get into a court fight about this. So we’ve both agreed to these terms, which the defendant is going to have to carry out.” Usually this is used by the federal government to make businesses adhere to regulatory laws. The decree was crafted by the DOJ alone and required Ferguson to take action to correct the problems. Some of the necessary actions included diversity training for police and body cameras for officers.

Ferguson, already in debt, was concerned about the cost associated with carrying out the plan — an estimated $3.7 million in the first year alone. The City Council tried to amend the decree, but the DOJ had none of it. Ferguson City Council voted to reject it. The  day after the consent decree was rejected, the DOJ sued the city in an effort to force Ferguson to accept its terms. After the DOJ suggested that Ferguson may receive technical and monetary assistance in the implementation of the plan, Ferguson backpedaled. They accepted the deal just before spring break and the lawsuit was dropped.

As a result of the decree, Ferguson will begin to implement changes. Besides body cameras and diversity training, staff will be hired to analyze arrest records and use of force by police. Stops and searches will be handled differently. For many people in Ferguson, this decision represents their hope that the Ferguson police department will become more fair and less discriminatory. This is not the end of the story, though. In a recent election, Ferguson voters only approved half of the tax hikes the City Council asked for, so the city, currently $2.9 million in debt, could still have a hard time finding the money to do all of this. Residents of Ferguson and St. Louis hope that there will be a peaceful, constructive solution to this situation.

Thanks for listening.