What the Ferguson Report Really Exposed

Media coverage has obscured what is perhaps the most important finding regarding the shooting death of Michael Brown.

We’ve all seen them—the unsolicited, chain emails that occasionally dump tasteless or racist jokes in our inboxes.  I delete them immediately.  End of story.

Yet, somehow, the media has obsessed over the (admittedly noxious) emails found in the files of a few individuals in the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department. The emails were noted in a March 4 report issued by the Special Litigation Section (SLS) of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. That report employs some rather dubious statistics to claim a “pattern and practice” of discriminatory behavior by the Ferguson Police Department.

The SLS report grabbed headlines and sparked renewed protests in Ferguson.  It also obscured what is perhaps the most important finding regarding the shooting death of Michael Brown back in August 2014 – namely, the complete exoneration of Officer Darren Wilson.  

Fervor generated by the “pattern and practice” report blinded much of the country to the second report issued that day by the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section. It clearly confirms the validity of the local grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson last November.  It also belies the media-propagated myth that Michael Brown was shot in the back while trying to surrender with his hands in the air.

That storyline was a total fabrication conjured up by dishonest witnesses who lied to the police and reporters.  Many of the witnesses “who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting they did not witness the shooting.” [Emphasis added.]  Critically, DOJ’s investigation “did not reveal any eyewitness who stated that Brown said ‘don’t shoot.’” [emphasis added.]

In fact, witnesses confirmed that Officer Wilson was attacked by Brown.  They testified that Brown “reached into the [police] SUV through the open driver’s window and punched and grabbed Wilson” before struggling with Wilson to try to gain control of the officer’s gun. That testimony was corroborated by the physical and forensic evidence.

But many of the witnesses—particularly those from the neighborhood where Brown’s family lived—were afraid to give formal statements to law enforcement that would support Wilson’s account. The report calls it “fear of reprisal.” In other words, vigilante justice – intended to make sure the real story of what happened did not see the light of day – was alive and well in the neighborhood that Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, and others visited with their message about a supposedly racist criminal justice system.   

But what about that other report, the one issued by the SLS? According to Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, it is “so replete with conclusions unsupported by facts, so lacking in basic methodological rigor,” that it “is an embarrassment.” The report claims, based on statistical disparities, that the Ferguson Police Department (“FPD”) engages in “intentional discrimination on the basis of race.” It asserts that the investigation “revealed a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct…that violates the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment…and federal statutory law.”  

To justify that claim, the report says that from 2012 to 2014, “African Americans account[ed] for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson’s population.”  Does that mean that the FPD is engaging in intentional discrimination?  Or is the Justice Department failing to take into account the unfortunate fact, reflected in numerous studies (including data from DOJ itself), that African Americans commit crimes and routine traffic violations at a much higher rate than whites, Hispanics or Asians?

According to the U.S. Census, Missouri has a black population of 11.7%.  Yet according to a 2012 report by the Missouri Statistical Analysis Center of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, blacks represented 60.5 percent of all murder arrests.   They also represent 55 percent of murder victims in the state, which means that African American criminals are in large part preying on other African Americans.  According to the Justice Department’s own statistics on homicides nationwide, “the offending rate for blacks” is “7 times higher than the rate for whites.” African Americans were also 6 times as likely to be the victim of homicide as whites.