President Barack Obama said Friday that the Ferguson, Mo., police department engaged in a systemic pattern of racial discrimination, and that it can change or risk a lawsuit from the Department of Justice.
The remarks are Obama’s most extensive comments about a Justice Department report showing that the police department in Ferguson showed a pattern of racial bias and constitutional violations.
He said the department was “systemically biased” against African-American residents who were “stopped, harassed, mistreated, abused,” and bore the brunt of a city that attempted to use the criminal justice system as a way to make money, The Washington Post reported.
The department is “clearly a broken and racially biased system,” Obama said at college campus in Columbia. “It was an oppressive and abusive situation.”
Some of the Ferguson incidents the Justice Department report cited include police using racial slurs, pervasive use of stun guns and flouting the constitutional rights of citizens. The department review made public a trove of racially and religiously insensitive emails, some of which cited Obama.
“What happened in Ferguson is not a complete aberration. It’s not just a one-time thing. It’s something that happens,” Obama said.
People were outraged not only by a police officer’s fatal shooting in August of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, he said, but because they had been putting up with these issues for years, and their complaints weren’t believed. “We weren’t just making this up,” he said.
Ferguson officials will likely have to enter into an agreement or negotiate a settlement with the Department of Justice to change their police and governmental practices; if they do not, the government can bring a civil rights lawsuit against the city on behalf of its citizens.
Obama said he stands “completely behind” the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in the audience in Columbia, not to charge former Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown.
“That was an objective, independent, thorough investigation,” the president said, when asked at a town hall event at Columbia’s historically black Benedict College why Holder did not charge the officer.”