U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the Justice Department December 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. Holder spoke about the recent decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UPDATED, 8:22 PM EST, 2-19-15: While commending the Department of Justice for contemplating filing a lawsuit against the Ferguson Police Department for racial discrimination, Justin Hansford, a civil rights lawyer, activist and professor at St. Louis University Law School, tells NewsOne the problems are not new to most residents.
“We who live here didn’t need to do months of research to figure this out,” he said of the potential suit. “We have experienced the targeting, racism, and police brutality first hand.”
He also warned that Ferguson police officers are not alone in their pattern of racial discrimination.
“I hope we start holding more departments accountable,” Hansford said.
In the aftermath of the high-profile police-involved shooting of an unarmed Black teen and other incidences, the federal government is preparing to sue the Ferguson, Mo., police department over a pattern of racially discriminatory tactics, according to media reports late-Wednesday.
The suit would be one of the last moves by Eric Holder, the nation’s first Black U.S. attorney general who is poised to step down soon. The plan is being applauded by civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, the New York-based activist who has been at the forefront of the battle against police violence in the Black community. He released a statement late-Wednesday:
“The reports that the United States Justice Department is preparing to sue the Ferguson, Missouri, police department, is a monumental step on a long road towards police accountability and fairness in our quest for justice. National Action Network has been involved with the Michael Brown case from the beginning and has asked for the Justice Department to review both the Ferguson police and the Michael Brown killing from day one. While we feel that this does not answer the specific violations of the civil rights of Michael Brown being violated, it gives a strong national message to police departments around the country. We still hope the federal government will deal with the specific Brown case but we are encouraged with the move on the police department as a significant step in the right direction. We will continue fighting with the Brown family for justice in that case and we will continue working with clergy, local officials, and activists towards ensuring a fair police department in Ferguson.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said this week he expects to announce the results of the department’s investigation of the shooting death of [18-year-old] Michael Brown and a broader probe of the Ferguson Police Department before he leaves office in the coming weeks.
Brown’s shooting death at the hands of [ex-Ferguson] Officer Darren Wilson has thrust Ferguson into the center of a nationwide debate over police tactics and race relations. The [U.S. Department of Justice] is expected to announce it won’t charge Wilson for the shooting, but it’s also expected to outline findings that allege a pattern of discriminatory tactics used by the Ferguson police.
Ferguson police Chief Thomas Jackson told CNN’s Sara Sidner Wednesday that he had nothing new to add about the suit.
“Everything they suggested in the past has been reasonable and we have tried to comply.”
The suit would target what appears to be aimed the department’s New Jim Crow Laws, a term coined by civil rights litigator and legal scholar Michelle Alexanderabout mass incarceration of minorities in the U.S.
Among the issues expected to be part of the Justice Department’s lawsuit are allegations made in a recent lawsuit filed by a group of low-income people who claimed officers in Ferguson and nearby Jennings targeted minorities with minor traffic infractions and then jailed them when they couldn’t pay fines.
The Justice Department action would ask for court supervision of changes at the Ferguson Police Department to improve how police deal with the minority communities they are supposed to protect.