DOJ: Ferguson Cops Escalated Protests, Violated Right to Free Speech


The Ferguson, St. Louis County, and St. Louis police departments along with the Missouri Highway Patrol have been newly and specifically faulted for the role they played in the Ferguson protests in the 16 days after the death of Michael Brown. In a report obtained by the St. Louis Dispatch, to be delivered to police later this week, the Department of Justice finds the four agencies responsible for violating free speech, antagonizing crowds with military tactics, inciting fear and violence, withholding information, and shirking responsibility to problem solve and de-escalate.

The St. Louis Dispatch details how the police issued “vague and arbitrary” orders, confusing protestors and violating the protestors’ right to assembly. The Justice Department states that 2014’s unrest was built upon distrust between cops and citizens that Ferguson police exacerbated by refusing to release information about Brown’s death. Darren Wilson skipping town probably didn’t help either.

“Had law enforcement released information on the officer-involved shooting in a timely manner and continued the information flow as it became available, community distrust and media skepticism would most likely have been lessened,” according to the document.

The DOJ document also identifies the use of dogs for crowd control as a tool to “incite fear and anger” rather than calm, stating that the practice “should be prohibited.” The use of tear gas on protestors and others who were not a threat nor had a “safe retreat” were also noted, along with the way arrests were made.

The full report is nearly 200 pages long, identifying 45 “findings” and listing “recommendations” for each. As far as law enforcement response goes, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson has already stepped down, and the others say they can’t comment on the report until they see the full document rather than the summary.

This report is the third of four to be handed down by the Justice Department on Ferguson. The first two were released in March, justifying the shooting of Brown and “strongly criticizing” racist Ferguson police and municipal court practices, respectively. A fourth Justice Department report is expected in July on the St. Louis County Police Department’s practices.

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Image via AP.

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