As a former Ferguson Council member, I attended most of the quarterly status hearings on the consent decree with the Department of Justice (DOJ) from the start. I clearly remember several hearings in which Judge Catherine Perry, the DOJ and the monitor said Ferguson seems to be working in good faith and was making some progress. I also remember a meeting in which the DOJ expressed to council members that they wanted us to succeed in meeting the compliances so that we could heal and move forward as a community.
Ferguson has committed, determined, good people who work together daily on committees, commissions, neighborhood associations, events, and activities to promote healing, prosperity and a better Ferguson. However, a city comes under a consent decree when the constitutional rights, human rights and civil rights of its citizens have been violated.
Blake Ashby has argued that fully satisfying the consent decree would have required 20 percent tax increases on Ferguson’s mostly African-American population, the very people the consent decree was supposed to help. Ashby may not understand that while increased taxes may cause financial hardships, nothing hurts or interferes with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness like not receiving equal protection under the law. African-American people live with this reality every day.
The DOJ did an investigation in which mostly African Americans were not receiving equal protection under the law. The findings of the DOJ indicated a disproportionate number of African Americans were written tickets by Ferguson police and had become a means of raising revenue for the city.
Ashby comes across as if residents of Ferguson are living in a community that is lawless with race-track streets and under-staffed and under-paid police officers who cannot enforce basic public safety by writing tickets. I believe Ferguson police officers are doing a good job considering the circumstances. Yes, we have crime in Ferguson. Yes, we are not fully staffed. However, all over the country recruitment of police officers has become a difficult task. A recent poll indicated fewer individuals desire to be police officers.
Also, cities are very competitive as far as offering salaries and benefits to recruit top officers. Ashby mentions Ferguson passed two tax increases but those tax increases were offset by drops in revenue, including a significant drop in ticket revenue, which resulted in police officers receiving only a 5 percent increase in salaries.
Our former Police Chief Delrish Moss constantly emphasized to the council and our officers that Ferguson must do constitutional policing. He also emphasized to the council that thorough vetting in hiring was critical because we did not want the wrong person as an officer for Ferguson. This process may have resulted in understaffing but it is still very important to the community.
I am concerned about our financial situation in Ferguson and meeting compliances of the consent decree. I understand the $300,000 for the monitor is 2 percent of our budget and the financial burden this imposes on the city when salary increases for our police, street repairs and other services are needed in our community. However, if the DOJ started operating in a manner where consent decrees were changed to simply meet the financial needs of cities, the DOJ would no longer be an effective agency enforcing rights of citizens. Our council must find ways to get us through this and meet compliances of the consent decree.
As far as the Ferguson Police Department self-reporting or self-monitoring, that’s totally ridiculous. How can our city be accountable to itself without the proper accountability process provided by the DOJ? Can you imagine the rage and condemnation on our city if we self-monitored or self-reported?
Laverne Mitchom is a former Ferguson Council member.