Will the Justice Department's Investigation into Ferguson Result in Anything Meaningful?

September 11th 2014

Alece Oxendine

The Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department. They will examine the Mike Brown case and their policing practices over time. These investigations often lead to lawsuits or settlements that can bring federal monitoring or what they call a "consent decree" where no one admits guilt but both sides commit to making things better. This type of investigation is not new. The Justice Department recently completed similar investigations in Albuquerque, Seattle, and New Orleans. For Ferguson, the federal court will have to prove that not only did Officer Darren Wilson use excessive force, but he also violated Mike Brown's civil rights. They will also have to prove that over time, there has been a pattern of brutality against people of color in Ferguson. Missouri is conducting a similar investigation as well. The state's grand jury would have to prove that Officer Wilson's life was not threatened by Brown for him to be criminally charged. 

A case against Officer Wilson might be the closest thing to justice for Mike Brown; but regardless of the outcome, we will (hopefully) continue the conversations about the role racism plays in policing. There is also still a racial gap within many police departments, and some departments (including those facing civil rights investigations) are still disproportionately white. While this doesn't prove that racism exists, it does represent a need to have a police force that looks like the people they serve, which builds community trust. 

Currently there are only 3 black officers on Ferguson’s 53-member police force. That’s only 6% of the police force in a town that’s over 60% black. Hundreds of police departments in America have gotten rid of their affirmative action programs as well; according to a 2012 study, "black employment growth was significantly lower in departments after affirmative action ended than in departments whose plans continued."

It may take weeks or months until we have some type of resolution from the state and federal courts in Ferguson. The Justice Department's investigation will not provide an end-all-be-all solution to the disparities that exist in police departments, but it might give some peace of mind for Brown's family as well as citizens concerned about what happened in Ferguson.