The lawsuit, filed by Arch City Defenders, Equal Justice Under the Law and the University of St. Louis Law School, alleges the city of Ferguson saw many of it’s poor Black residents as a financial resource. The court system levied heavy fines on them for minor infractions and then jailed them when they couldn’t pay.
The lawsuit also alleges Black residents were held in hellish prison conditions where they were denied clean clothes, legal materials, clean water, toothbrushes and also had to endure filthy cells smeared with “blood and mucus.”
The widespread protests over the death of Michael Brown, at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, led to a Department of Justice investigation which revealed many of these problems. The DOJ report also revealed the city of Ferguson had disproportionately ticketed Black residents. The report also found that although Black people made up 70 percent of Ferguson’s population, they accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops and 93 percent of arrests. Also, 100 percent of people bitten by police dogs were Black. Further, the report revealed city offices were hostile to Black people. Several city workers exchanged racist emails and shared messages, which included disparaging comments about President Barack Obama.
“This investigation found a community that was deeply polarized,” said former Attorney General Eric Holder, “a community where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents.”
Ferguson is not the only St. Louis-area city facing legal action over its court system. According to the Huffington Post, the city of Jennings has agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit and Velda City agreed to end its cash-only bail system which kept poor people in jail. In addition, the town of St. Ann was under a federal order to release people they arrest unless they appear in front of a judge within 24 hours.
The city of Ferguson and legal groups were still trying to hammer out an agreement, as both sides have asked for a deadline extension.