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Ferguson City Council Votes Unanimously to Approve Justice Department Agreement to Overhaul Police and Court System

Demonstrators raise their hands and chant "hands up, don't shoot" during a protest over the killing of Michael Brown on Aug. 12 in Clayton, Mo. Some reports state that Brown hand his hands in the air when he was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday in suburban Ferguson, Mo. Two days of unrest including rioting and looting have followed the shooting in Ferguson. Browns parents have publicly asked for order. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Demonstrators raise their hands and chant “hands up, don’t shoot” during a protest over the killing of Michael Brown on Aug. 12 in Clayton, Mo. Some reports state that Brown hand his hands in the air when he was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday in suburban Ferguson, Mo. Two days of unrest including rioting and looting have followed the shooting in Ferguson. Browns parents have publicly asked for order. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Justice reached an agreement with the city of Ferguson, Missouri, to overhaul its police department and court system, following the police killing of Michael Brown 19 months ago and the protests and unrest that followed.  Ferguson resisted the consent decree and voted against it, and the federal government sued.  And now, the officials in Ferguson have blinked.

The city government in the St. Louis suburb has agreed on the deal, which would force the municipality to end its abusive policing practices, including policing for profit, and eliminate certain laws, as the Huffington Post reported. The Ferguson city council approved the consent decree in a unanimous 6-0 vote on Tuesday evening, marking a broad overhaul for the infamous town.

After the vote was announced, protesters cheered and Mayor James Knowles III and Michael Brown Sr. embraced, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“This is Mike Brown’s legacy,” said the father of the slain Black teen.

“Our No. 1 goal is to not only move the city but the entire region forward,” Knowles said in a statement, as CNN reported. “We have heard the concerns of the community and we’re looking forward to working with our citizens.”

Although the mayor once was in denial over the race problem in Ferguson and decried the focus on race in the DOJ report, he called the deal the “right move going forward for this city.”

“This is an opportunity to show the entire world that we can and will work together,” Councilman Wesley Bell said in a statement.

“Tonight, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, took an important step towards guaranteeing all of its citizens the protections of our Constitution,” said Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a statement.  “We are pleased that they have approved the consent decree, a document designed to provide the framework needed to institute constitutional policing in Ferguson, and look forward to filing it in court in the coming days and beginning to work with them towards implementation.”

Last year, the Justice Department issued an extensive and blistering report that concluded Ferguson police viewed its Black residents as “potential offenders and sources of revenue.”  Emails exchanged by city officials demonstrated a high degree of racism throughout the local government, and the attitude that the police force was there for revenue collection rather than for law enforcement.

For months, the federal government had negotiations with Ferguson attorneys.  However, the city council voted to add amendments in the agreement, including nullifying the deal if an external agency took over Ferguson’s policing, and the elimination of proposed raises for police officers, on the grounds that Ferguson could not afford the proposal.  At the same time, it was unlikely the cash-strapped city could afford the hefty cost of going to court against the U.S. Department of Justice.

As Fusion reported, the Ferguson city finance director originally calculated that the agreement would cost as much as $3.7 million for the first year of implementation. However, that estimate assumed an immediate 25 percent pay increase for police, which the DOJ said was unnecessary. The new estimate was calculated at $1.5 million the first year and less every subsequent year.

Under the deal, at the recommendation of the Justice Department, all police would be fitted with body cameras, officers would undergo diversity and de-escalation training, and Ferguson would hire staff and purchase software to review arrest data to fight discrimination.  In addition, the city would hire an independent monitor to make sure it abides by the agreement.

The city is still debating whether to raise taxes to pay for the deal, according to Fusion.  A federal judge must sign off on the agreement before it is implemented.

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