Ferguson, Mo., should be a case study of police and other authorities blowing through warning signs that finally led to a massive eruption with the Aug. 9 shooting death of unarmed,18-year-old Michael Brown.
The Justice Department is expected to release a report as early as this week that will show Ferguson police have long discriminated against African Americans in traffic stops and ticketing, which helped feed city coffers, The New York Times reports. City officials elsewhere need only to go to municipal traffic court to see whether the place is overwhelmingly filled with people of color to know whether they have the same building problem as Ferguson. Now is the time to do something about it.
The St. Louis suburb drew worldwide attention last year after then-Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown. Protests since then have been ongoing with some turning violent with many businesses being looted, burned and people arrested.
Tension between African Americans and police in Ferguson have been building for years as the city’s demographics in the last four decades have shifted from majority white to majority black. However, whites dominate the jobs for police, in city government and in elected officials.
Numbers in the Missouri attorney general’s annual racial profiling report have warned of a growing problem. People failed to heed the warnings in Ferguson and in many cities throughout the state.
In 2013, 86 percent of police traffic stops involved African Americans even though blacks constitute 63 percent of Ferguson’s population of 21,000 people. African American drivers once stopped were twice as likely to be searched, but such searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband.
The anger grew with lingering debt from the tickets that police issued. Money Ferguson collected from the accompanying fines, the Justice Department is expected to note, make up the city’s second largest income source.
Police and elected officials should have paid attention to the attorney general’s report. Ferguson residents should have voted in greater numbers in municipal elections so they could have the representation they needed for good government. Schools also should try to interest more black kids in police and other Ferguson jobs.
With the Justice Department report due out soon, they have a chance to use it to get things right. But the human, property and public relations costs have been way too high.
Other communities throughout Missouri and the U.S. with the same problems must take not and take corrective action.