NEW YORK — In light of the Department of Justice’s recent scathing report on law enforcement practices in Ferguson, MO, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC) of the NLG, and the NLG Anti-Racism Committee (ARC), join communities impacted by police violence to condemn the actions of the Ferguson Police Department and call for increased oversight and accountability for law enforcement systems nationwide. Furthermore, the recent killings of 19-year-old Tony Robinson by a Madison, WI police officer, and 43-year-old Charly “Africa” Leundeu Keunang in Los Angeles, CA, are a reminder that the Ferguson PD is not exceptional. Rather, the violations highlighted by the DOJ are systemic and national in scope, resulting in a reality where one of every three Black men in the United States will spend time in prison and every 28 hours, a Black person in the country is killed by a police officer or private security; .
The DOJ report highlights a number of egregious violations on the part of the Ferguson PD. First, review of correspondence between city officials and interviews with police officers show that “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs.” As a result, policing assignments are geared toward “aggressive enforcement of Ferguson’s municipal code,” and both stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause are ubiquitous in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments. The municipal court aggravates the devastating impact of these unconstitutional policing practices by using “its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City’s financial interests.” In 2013, there were 1.5 times the number of offenses as Ferguson residents, a number even Ferguson PD admits is “staggering.”
Moreover, the racial bias is undeniably rampant. Data in the report shows that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by Ferguson PD officers, despite comprising less than 70% of Ferguson’s population. African Americans are more than twice as likely to be searched during vehicle stops than white people. Nearly 90% of documented force used by FPD officers was used against African Americans, including every documented incident of a canine bite. These statistics demonstrating racial bias are hardly shocking; rather they mirror statistics showing racially discriminatory stop and search practices in Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, and elsewhere around the United States.
The NLG stands in solidarity with communities harmed by widespread racial bias and aggressive law enforcement tactics like those revealed in the DOJ’s Ferguson report. These practices are not only morally unacceptable—they are illegal and unconstitutional. In the context of increasingly better funded, militarized, and technologically advanced police departments, such practices perpetuate state violence against communities of color rather than protecting public safety. TUPOCC co-chair Oren Nimni states, “The NLG stands in full support of those actively resisting these policies and practices. We are encouraged by the work of Black Lives Matter activists in Ferguson and nationwide which has brought much needed public attention to the racially discriminatory policing practices that caused the deaths of Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tony Robinson, and countless others. While we can and should continue to push for legal reform, it is also abundantly clear that the legal system sanctions and incentivizes the repression of Black communities, and that resistance is required.” ARC co-chair Hannah Adams adds, “the NLG Anti-Racism Committee condemns any use of the legal system to perpetuate systemic racism and violence against communities of color. NLG members join the Black Lives Matter movement in calling for an immediate overhaul of law enforcement systems that enact racial violence.”
The National Lawyers Guild was formed in 1937 as the nation’s first racially integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human, and civil rights. To learn more about the work of NLG’s ARC and TUPOCC, follow them on Facebook here and here.