Showing he may not be up to speed on corruption within law enforcement in his town, but that he is, indeed, a politician, Ferguson mayor James Knowles flip-flopped on his position on whether the police department needs fixing.
Knowles initially played ignorant to the Justice Department’s 102-page findings of widespread racist practices within the force, from profiling to harassment to essentially using Blacks as a city fund-raiser through arrests.
“What they’ve shown is that it has happened,” he said. “Now, how often has that happened? I don’t know. Their assertion is it happens regularly. Based on what? I’m not sure yet. Do they have a statistic that tells me that they’ve examined every arrest that we’ve made for the past four years and that half, or all, or 10 percent, or 5 percent are unconstitutional or without cause? They do not have that. They have not examined at that level that I know of at this point.”
That was then. That defiance gave way to him now saying he is on board to reshape the police department to make it fair and balanced. Actually reading the report influenced Knowles.
“We’ve been committed to reform and making those changes,” Knowles said. “I can tell you that as we move forward, we’re going to go through every line of that report. We have been going through and identifying where the breakdown was.”
It cannot be comforting to the citizens of Ferguson that their mayor refuted the report and also claimed he was unaware of the vast scope of racial profiling under his watch.
The Justice Department investigation announced last week documented significant constitutional violations and racial bias among local authorities, as well as the use of the local police department and court system to generate revenue.
That review suggests creating a civilian review board so elected officials can hear complaints that citizens have against the Ferguson Police Department, as well as improving training and outreach. Knowles now says he agrees.
“Everybody in that report that may be implicated, anybody who’s been participating in any sort of discriminatory policing that we can identify in the report, we want to hold accountable,” the mayor said. “That’s going to take more than a couple days, but we are absolutely committed to that.”
To avoid a federal lawsuit, the city will likely enter an agreement with the DOJ to make systemic reforms. Knowles claims that cleanup efforts are already underway and wants to prove that the situation is not dire. But, as Think Progress points out, the people tasked with implementing changes were heavily involved in establishing the local law enforcement structure. Judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer, for instance, levied steep fines on African-Americans but owes $170,000 in unpaid taxes.
The Justice Department’s report was damning. It revealed that African Americans, who make up 67 of Ferguson’s population, were involved in 93 percent of arrests, 85 percent of traffic stops and received 90 percent of tickets issued by officers, from 2012 to 2014. The report also detailed several encounters when officers approached Black men and women without probable cause. Officers also worked with the courts to issue egregious fines and fees to boost city revenue, at the expense of individuals who could not afford to pay them and were subsequently thrown in jail. Police also used excessive force with impunity, the report said.