The ACLU Response to Ferguson

BREAKING: Follow @ACLU on Twitter and the ACLU on Facebook for live, ongoing updates on the situation on the ground in Ferguson.

ACLU Comment on Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

The grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., has declined to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on charges in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown. The following is reaction from Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri:

The grand jury's decision does not negate the fact that Michael Brown's tragic death is part of an alarming national trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Yet in most cases, the officers and police departments are not held accountable. While many officers carry out their jobs with respect for the communities they serve, we must confront the profound disconnect and disrespect that many communities of color experience with their local law enforcement.

The ACLU will continue to fight for racial justice. We must end the prevailing policing paradigm where police departments are more like occupying forces, imposing their will to control communities. This 'us vs. them' policing antagonizes communities by casting a blanket of suspicion over entire neighborhoods, often under the guise of preventing crime.

To build trust, we need a democratic system of policing where our communities have an equal say in the way their neighborhoods are policed. Collaboration, transparency, and communication between police and communities around the shared goals of equality, fairness, and public safety is the path forward.

Ferguson, MO Protest

The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., is a grim reminder that there are two kinds of policing in America today: one to serve and protect the white community and one to criminalize and control the black community.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the predominately white local and county police responded to the largely peaceful protests in the overwhelmingly African-American community with a show of force that left Americans wondering whether they were watching events unfold on the streets of suburban St. Louis or on the streets of an authoritarian country. The police's paramilitary tactics and mindset combined with the slow and selective release of information to smear Michael Brown have only served to enflame the situation. Law enforcement officers and officials are public servants tasked with serving and protecting their communities, not erecting a blue wall of silence to insulate themselves from transparency and accountability.

Policing in America disproportionately and negatively affects communities of color, particularly black youth. Since April, police across the country have  killed at least six unarmed black men under circumstances that strongly suggest the unjustified use of lethal force and racial profiling. The ACLU has also found that paramilitary SWAT raids are disproportionately used against black and Latino citizens rather than white citizens when serving warrants in search of drugs, even though blacks, Latinos, and whites use drugs at roughly the same rates. The ACLU has also documented that nationwide blacks are almost four times more likely – and in some states eight times more likely– to be arrested for marijuana possession despite the fact that blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.

Systemic reform is necessary, not only in Ferguson, Mo., but nationwide.

The shooting of Michael Brown and the aggressive militarized response of local, county, and state law enforcement to the protests impact many interrelated areas of concern for the ACLU nationwide, including racialized policing, police use of force, the militarization of police, and the First Amendment.

To serve and protect is not a suggestion. It is a mandate that law enforcement must apply equally to all communities. Otherwise, there will only be more Fergusons. The ACLU of Missouri and the American Civil Liberties Union and allies across the country urge local, state, and national legislators and law enforcement officials to take the following actions and institute the following reforms.

State of Missouri and Ferguson and St. Louis County Police Departments »

  • Rescind Gov. Jay Nixon's order declaring a state of emergency and restore to Ferguson the full protections secured by the Constitution and other laws.
  • Comply with ACLU of Missouri requests under the Missouri Sunshine Law to release the incident reports of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson's shooting of Michael Brown.
  • Investigate the Ferguson Police Department from top to bottom and remove those agents who are obstructing open communications or preventing justice.

State and Local Lawmakers and Law Enforcement Across the United States »

  • Require the use of police officer Body-Worn Cameras to record every police-civilian encounter, including during SWAT deployments, in accordance with policies requiring civilian notification and applicable laws, along with rigorous standards regarding the retention, use, access, and disclosure of data captured by such systems.
  • Require the use of dash cameras in all police vehicles.
  • Promote accountability and transparency by collecting stop, frisk, search, citation, and arrest data; making the aggregate data publicly available; creating evaluation systems to analyze such data to identify and address racial disparities in enforcement practices; and developing policing strategies that reduce such racial disparities in enforcement practices.
  • Create an external oversight agency, such as an Inspector General or civilian review board, which should regularly analyze data regarding police departments' stops, frisks, searches, citations, and arrests, by race and locality, to assess whether there are any unjustified racial disparities in enforcement practices. All such analyses and findings should be made available to the public.
  • Eliminate the "broken windows" policing policy, initiated in the 1980s, which encourages overly aggressive police encounters for minor offenses.
  • Conduct on-the-ground community training to educate residents of their rights when dealing with law enforcement.
  • Implement greater and more effective community oversight over the local law enforcement and policing tactics.
  • Establish a law enforcement commission to review policing tactics that would include in its composition leaders/experts from civil rights advocacy groups who represent the most impacted communities.

The Department of Justice »

  • Conduct an independent and comprehensive federal investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager shot by police in Ferguson, Mo.
  • Update and release its June 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies with substantive reforms including revisions that would 1) make the Guidance enforceable 2) apply the Guidance to state and local law enforcement who work in partnership with the federal government or receive federal funding; 3) close the loopholes for the border and national security; 4) cover surveillance activities; 5) prohibit profiling based on religion, national origin, and sexual orientation.
  • Require racial bias training and guidance regarding the improper use of force for state and local law enforcement that receive federal grants.
  • Require that state and local law enforcement that receive federal grants mandate all officers install Body-Worn Cameras as part of their uniform and install dash cameras in police.
  • Initiate a comprehensive federal review and reporting of all police killings, accompanied by immediate action to address the unjustified use of lethal and excessive force by police officers in jurisdictions throughout this country against unarmed people of color.
  • Initiate a comprehensive federal review and reporting of excessive use of force, generally against youth and people of color, and the development of national use of force standards.
  • Initiate a comprehensive federal review and reporting of racially disproportionate policing, examining rates of stops, frisks, searches, and arrests by race, including a federal review of police departments' data collection practices and capabilities.
  • Initiate a comprehensive federal review and reporting of police departments' racial profiling and racially biased practices, as well as any related policies and trainings.

U.S. Congress »

  • Pass the End Racial Profiling Act (H.R. 2851/S. 1038), which would prohibit profiling by federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement, mandate law enforcement training to help police avoid responses based on stereotypes and unreliable assumptions about minorities and hold law enforcement officials and agencies that continue to engage in racial profiling accountable.
  • Ensure that federal military weapons do not end up in the hands of local law enforcement, and if they do, prevent their misuse, particularly in communities of color.

In the Courts

The ACLU and ACLU of Missouri have been working diligently to shed light on what transpired in Ferguson, as well to protect First Amendment rights for the community and media. The ACLU of Missouri has filed two Missouri Sunshine Law suits to receive copies of the incident reports from both the St. Louis County and the Ferguson Police Departments, which have both to date refused to turn over the reports that should contain important details regarding the shooting, and are key to a fair and just investigation.

Protestors with ACLU Know Your Rights t-shirts

On the Ground in Ferguson: #BlackLivesMatter
My heart aches today. I'm in Ferguson – supporting the incredible work of ACLU of Missouri, meeting with activists, helping out legal observers, handing out Know Your Rights t-shirts and cards to protesters.

Larry Fellows III

Ferguson Q&A with Organizer Larry Fellows III
Larry Fellows III, a 29-year-old accidental organizer from St. Louis City, talks to the ACLU.

Getty Photographer, Scott Olson, arrested at Ferguson protest

There Is No 5-Second Rule for the First Amendment, Ferguson
Tear gas, rubber bullets, and assault weapons; free speech zones, gags, and press pens: This is the arsenal of the police state.

SWAT Team at the door

The Real Reason Ferguson Has Military Weapons
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades. The weaponry has changed, but the target is still the same.

Ferguson Police/Swat exit a vehicle

Ferguson: On the Ground
In the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy last week, the ACLU has been working diligently to shed light on what transpired, as well as preserve First Amendment Rights for the community and media.

Michael Brown's Dad at Ferguson Protest

Ferguson Police's PR Stunt Poisons Independent and Impartial Investigation
The tragic killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department has shocked his family, community, and the nation.

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