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(Photo: quinnanya/Flickr)

We All Live in Ferguson

• August 14, 2014 • 9:33 PM

(Photo: quinnanya/Flickr)

Unconstitutional violence perpetrated by police against people of color, minorities, and vulnerable populations is all too normal.

Excessive or lethal use of force against and discriminatory policing of people of color, other minorities, and vulnerable populations is a problem everywhere, not just in Ferguson, Missouri. Take a look at the number of police departments that have been under federal investigation for excessive force and/or discriminatory policing by the Department of Justice over just the last three or so years. There are certainly many, many more departments with issues, especially smaller ones in suburban or rural areas that have managed not to attract federal attention.

The following excerpts are taken from a series of DOJ findings letters sent to cities and the authorities in question.

Seattle Police Department: “We find that SPD engages in a pattern or practice of using unnecessary or excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14141. Deficiencies in SPD’s training, policies, and oversight with regard to the use of force contribute to the constitutional violations. … Some SPD policies and practices, particularly those related to pedestrian encounters, could result in unlawful policing. Moreover, many community members believe that SPD engages in discriminatory policing. This perception is rooted in a number of factors, including negative street encounters, recent well-publicized videos of force being used against people of color, incidents of overt discrimination, and concerns that the pattern of excessive force disproportionately affects minorities.”

Portland Police Bureau: “Encounters between PPB officers and persons with mental illness too frequently result in a use of force when force is unnecessary or in the use of a higher level of force than necessary or appropriate, up to and including deadly force. We found instances that support a pattern of dangerous uses of force against persons who posed little or no threat and who could not, as a result of their mental illness, comply with officers’ commands. We also found that PPB employs practices that escalate the use of force where there were clear earlier junctures when the force could have been avoided or minimized.”

Alamance County Sheriff’s Office: “Based on our careful review of the evidence, we have concluded that ACSO engages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing against Latinos. The discriminatory conduct we observed is deeply rooted in a culture that begins with Sheriff Johnson and permeates the entire agency.”

Albuquerque Police Department: “Albuquerque police officers too often use deadly force in an unconstitutional manner in their use of firearms. To illustrate, of the 20 officer-involved shootings resulting in fatalities from 2009 to 2012, we concluded that a majority of these shootings were unconstitutional. Albuquerque police officers often use deadly force in circumstances where there is no imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to officers or others. Instead, officers used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat, including individuals who posed a threat only to themselves or who were unarmed. Officers also used deadly force in situations where the conduct of the officers heightened the danger and contributed to the need to use force. … A significant amount of the force we reviewed was used against persons with mental illness and in crisis. APD’s policies, training, and supervision are insufficient to ensure that officers encountering people with mental illness or in distress do so in a manner that respects their rights and is safe for all involved.”

New Orleans Police Department: “Our review showed that officers in NOPD routinely use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the Constitution and NOPD policy. We noted particular problems with NOPD’s use of deadly force; force against restrained individuals, including retaliatory force; and the use of canines. … NOPD has failed to take sufficient steps to detect, prevent, or address bias-based profiling and other forms of discriminatory policing on the basis of race, ethnicity, or LGBT status, despite widespread concern and troubling racial disparities in arrest rates and other data.We further find that the Department fails to adequately investigate violence against women, including sexual assaults and domestic violence. Additionally, we find that the Department fails to provide critical policing services to New Orleans residents with limited English proficiency.”

Miami Police Department: “Based on our comprehensive review, we find reasonable cause to believe that MPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive use of force with respect to firearm discharges. We arrived at this conclusion based on interviews of relevant witnesses; a careful review of MPD policies; reviews of investigative files in connection with incidents of firearms discharges; and reviews of policies and practices related to internal investigations of uses of deadly force. Among other findings, our investigation uncovered a number of troubling MPD practices, including deficient tactics and supervision, as well as significant delays and substantive deficiencies in deadly force investigations. … Our current investigation commenced on November 16, 2011, after MPD officers fatally shot seven young African-American men during an eight-month period spanning 2010 and 2011. The shootings gave rise to widespread community concern about MPD’s use of deadly force and led to multiple requests for a Department of Justice investigation.”

East Haven Police Department: “We conclude that EHPD engages in a pattern or practice of biased policing against Latinos in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and federal law. Specifically, we have reasonable cause to believe that EHPD officers intentionally target Latinos for disparate traffic enforcement and treatment because of their race, color, or national origin. … These deficiencies and our observations have also caused us to have serious concerns that EHPD engages in unlawful searches and seizures and the use of excessive force.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Stations in Antelope Valley: “We found that LASD’s Antelope Valley stations have engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminatory and otherwise unlawful searches and seizures, including the use of unreasonable force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Title VI. We found also that deputies assigned to these stations have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act. … Policing practices in the Antelope Valley reflect, and unfortunately contribute to, a harmful divide between some of the more long-standing, primarily white residents of the community, and newer, more often non-white arrivals to the Antelope Valley.”

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office: “Based upon our extensive investigation, we find reasonable cause to believe that MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing. Specifically, we find that MCSO, through the actions of its deputies, supervisory staff, and command staff, engages in racial profiling of Latinos; unlawfully stops, detains, and arrests Latinos; and unlawfully retaliates against individuals who complain about or criticize MCSO’s policies or practices, all in violation of Section 14141. … [O]ur investigation revealed a number of troubling incidents involving MCSO deputies using excessive force against Latinos. Second, we observed that MCSO has implemented its immigration enforcement program in a way that has created a “wall of distrust” between MCSO officers and Maricopa County’s Latino residents-a wall of distrust that has significantly compromised MCSO’s ability to provide police protection to Maricopa County’s Latino residents.”

Newark Police Department: “The NPD stops black individuals at a greater rate than it stops white individuals. As a result, black individuals in Newark bear the brunt of the NPD’s pattern of unconstitutional stops and arrests. … In more than twenty percent of the NPD force incidents reviewed, the force as reported appeared unreasonable and thus in violation of the Constitution. Further, there has been substantial underreporting of force by NPD officers, and most NPD use of force investigations have been too inadequate to support reliable conclusions about whether an officer’s use of force—including deadly force—was reasonable.”

There are also persisting problems in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Detroit. Not to mention New York City.

It is the same pattern, over and over again. The most recent case reflects a problem larger than just one place and one incident. It is systemic.

How many more times will we allow the police to harass, attack, and kill people while violating the Constitution before doing something other than lamenting it? As a good faith move, federal authorities, states, cities, and police departments across the country could urge meaningful administrative and criminal punishments for offending officers, discipline which is now feckless or practically non-existent. Better yet, perhaps these departments could think seriously about who they’re recruiting and admitting into their ranks. Too often, these abuses are committed by a small, dedicated crew of racist or power-hungry imbeciles on a larger force. Perhaps we could identify these characters before they’re handed a firearm and told to protect the community.

More likely than not, complacency will still reign. Last week, before the current stream of outrage began, the city of Detroit and the DOJ filed a motion to end federal monitoring there on the merit that the police force was shooting substantially fewer people than in previous years.

Ryan Jacobs
Associate Digital Editor Ryan Jacobs joined Pacific Standard from The Atlantic, where he wrote for and produced the magazine’s Global and China channels online. Before that, he was a senior editorial fellow at Mother Jones. Follow him on Twitter @Ryanj899.

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