NCC Responds to Department of Justice Investigation of Ferguson Policing

“An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” ~ The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

WASHINGTON: The National Council of Churches thanks Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department for its report after a thorough investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. The report revealed that the police department and the City of Ferguson perpetuated the practice of discriminatory and racial bias against African-Americans. This shocking report states that the city had “a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct within the Ferguson Police Department that violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and federal statutory law.”

In a city where 67 percent of the population are African-Americans, 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of all citations issued, and 93 percent of arrests were made from among the city's Black citizens from 2012 to 2014. Racist emails from Ferguson officials and police officers provided further evidence of the undercurrent of racism endemic to policing in the city. The report further revealed the compounding effect of discriminatory acts by the municipal court. The damaging impact on the community of the court's practice of charging extreme fines and penalties that, in essence, created a debtors prison system, a primary source of city revenue at the expense and detriment of the African-American residents, is a reality.

As people of faith we are saddened by the findings. However, we are not surprised. Ferguson is a microcosm of a national, systemic problem with local police departments. This report documents what many people of color already know and live with every day. We encourage the City of Ferguson to implement the recommendations of the Department of Justice. We further recommend that the police chief and top ranking officials within the department be removed. In order to effectively transform the system and lend credibility and integrity to the necessary changes to the abhorrent practices throughout the department, new leadership is imperative.

At the time of releasing this report, the Department of Justice also released its findings regarding the review of office Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown. We are disappointed that the Department of Justice found that there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute Officer Wilson for the violation of Michael Brown’s civil rights. We are clear that the lack of sufficient evidence does not mean that Officer Wilson did not act inappropriately and violate official protocol. These decisions point to gross inadequacies in the system, and support our recommendation to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing that the entire criminal judicial system needs to be overhauled.

A justice system predicated on punishment and retribution, rather than rehabilitation and restitution, destroys communities and families and makes reconciliation and healing almost impossible. A policing structure that sees the community in which it serves as a people to be controlled is destined to create the very system of distrust evident not just in Ferguson, but between police and citizens in many cities throughout the country.

Only through a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system that incorporates accountably, transparency, restoration and reconciliation will the disease of racism begin to be healed.

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

NCC News contact: Steven D. Martin: 202.412.4323 or [email protected]