Why the DOJ's Findings of Ferguson PD's Racial Bias Won't Make an Impact

by Brittany Dawson

“The American Negro really is a part of this country, and on the day we face this fact, and not before that day, we will become a nation and possibly a great one.” —James Baldwin, The Amen Corner (1954)

The Department of Justice released a scathing, detailed 100+ page report Wednesday, March 4th summarizing a slew of questionable law enforcement practices in Ferguson, Missouri. Partly due to the decision to not charge Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, silent murmurs suggested the entire police department was guilty of similar acts of injustice. Now, the court of public opinion alongside the people of Ferguson, Missouri officially have a government report that outlines examples of unconstitutional practices, unethical emails sent by members of law enforcement, and money hungry motives that instigated searching without reasonable cause. But most importantly, the report unapologetically confirms racial bias among the Ferguson Police Department.

Yes. It’s 2015 and in order to wake up privileged Americans, stalwart post-racial and colorblindness enthusiasts, and those unaffected by systemic racism from their peaceful slumber, the Department of Justice must release a PDF online to announce, “Greetings Americans, our justice system is highly flawed for people of color!” The following findings confirm how systemic racism is a cardinal rule by members of the Ferguson Police Department:
Although African-Americans make up only 67 percent of Ferguson's population, they accounted for 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations and 93 percent of arrests by Ferguson police within a two-year period. Also 90 percent of documented force by police was against African-Americans.
While I’m sure the document left a sour taste in the mouths of those hurt by shoddy practices of the Ferguson Police Department, what’s more infuriating is that folks who scoff and turn a rosy cheeky at the cries of marginalized communities are successfully finding ways to divert and ignore the ways racism upholds networks of privilege. Despite violation of federal law by disproportionately harming African American residents, a lack of diversity, to an eroding community trust (especially among Ferguson’s African American residents), these blaring instances aren’t enough to convince Ferguson Mayor James W. Knowles of racism’s omnipresence. In fact, he says there’s no proof Ferguson has a “race problem.” Oh, please! Save the cognitive dissonance for a literary analysis.

Snarky attitude aside, until individuals in positions of privilege become self-informed on not only their power, but the pervasiveness of institutionalized racism and inequality, similar summaries will be ignored (as seen in Mayor W. Knowles’ case) or simply forgotten.

Let’s be honest: the Department of Justice’s report will not change the conversation of institutional racism and police violence due to the normalization of diversion tactics and the misguided belief that in order for society to change, Black folk must provide mini-seminars on Inequality 101 to validate why we are “still talking about race problems.”

Case and point, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson is notoriously known for cosigning and encouraging the department’s faulty practices. When asked on the report’s findings, a coy response followed thereafter:
According to CNN’s Sarah Sidner, Jackson has been forbidden from talking to press about the report, perhaps because he doesn’t have anything good to say. Sidner tracked Jackson down as he was getting out of his car, and asked him numerous questions about the report’s contents, and what action he was planning on taking.
His only response? “I need to have time to really analyze the report so I can comment on it.”

CNN also confirmed Jackson sent emails to increase city revenue by making more arrests by targeting African Americans:
Additionally, CNN found that he was more than aware of the department’s questionable practices–in fact, the network obtained emails in which Jackson explicitly approves increasing arrests and ticketing to increase the city’s revenue.
Diversion tactics have been normalized and embedded in America’s conceptualization of race. When leaders and people in position of power, namely, White folks, say with a scorching inflection, “This isn’t a race issue!” or swat at the buzzing fly of accountability, these utterances further asphyxiate folks of color burdened by the weight of oppression.

All this meaningless rhetoric does is pinpoint a pattern of individuals who would much rather run away from America’s “race issue” to immortalize the system that provides protection for enablers of subjugation. Seriously, the same people typing away ferociously to disprove the believability of racial bias not only in Ferguson, but worldwide, mirrors the mutineer spirit of Southern secessionists and gun toting traditionalists flabbergasted that their nostalgia of America’s old past is at risk of being exposed as an archaic, draconian philosophy.

We need to do away with the myth that conversations on race don’t exist. Believe me, they do. Instead, we should reframe this commentary to include what happens after these institutional disparities are proven to be true. More often than not, privileged individuals routinely inject their inability to use this newfound knowledge to uproot a disastrous system of inequities, and look to people within oppressed communities to give them the tools to enact change. My response? To quote Audre Lorde, “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House.”

Which brings me to my next point, it is neither the responsibility of the Department of Justice nor people of color to teach Racism 101. Harsh? Quite possibly. But if folks can frantically posit hypotheses for the viral craze “#TheDress”, a quick Amazon or JSTOR search will grant a similar pass to enlightenment. Don’t get me wrong, the report by the Department of Justice is in fact a wonderful avenue to approaching systemic troubles. But the report does nothing for White America’s adolescent mood swings when issues of race shift the blame from “society” to those who have more agency within society.

Don’t look to Black people to hold 24/7 Twitter seminars to explain why we’re angry. Don’t trample Black spaces with spiky hooves demanding someone, somewhere, to vomit an elegiac summary on America’s past and present. The Department of Justice’s findings will only mean something when people hurriedly boxing up the narratives of our bloodied Black kin find intrinsic motivation to use their position of power to inform and change.

Blacks continue to work laboriously to teach non-people of color that when we say #BlackLivesMatter, as evident in extant literature such as The Combahee River Collective Statement, “we would like to affirm that we find our origins in the historical reality of Afro-Americans [men and women’s] continuous life-and-death struggle for survival and liberation”. We aren’t looking for viral trends or brief notoriety in the online world. We are simply asking for humanity. But as Dr. Brittney Cooper poignantly states:
Asking black women and other women of color always to explain, show and prove to white people what is so wrong about what they have said or done, when we have no guarantees that they will change, shift or grow, is unacceptable.
I strongly encourage people of color to not get tricked into playing a dangerous game of Mother May I with those who are too overwhelmed with the task of confronting their privilege. And I get it, it’s beyond difficult to acknowledge that even the best intentioned and benevolent souls must do more. Let me be very clear: people from the African Diaspora have done our work, and it’s time for the Ferguson Police Department to do the world a favor, and unlearn these detrimental belief systems.

Racism is not a hackneyed, banal word. The most basic understanding of racism, as proven in the case of the Ferguson Police Department’s tactics, is a set of normalized expectations marketed through American ideology that supports, maintains, and rewards White supremacy.

How many more brothers and sisters will be shot before we genuinely reassess how we respond to racial injustice?

Mike Brown is dead.

Trayvon Martin is dead.

Eric Garner is dead.

The pattern is clear. The law of the land is in full fruition and at this rate, no amount of statistics, reports, and slain Blacks will ever be enough to prove racism isn’t a sensationalized term people of color cry to collect pity points.

Even though “we realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us”, I hope America will eventually learn to love people of color and transform this saddening dynamic.

Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images

Brittany Dawson is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She is a senior at the University of South Carolina who is passionate about equality, social justice, and education. You may follow her on Twitter: @BrittanyJDawson.

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