The Ferguson Report Should be the Catalyst for National Criminal Justice Reform, and Conservatives Should Lead


After briefly flirting with using the DOJ report on the Michael Brown shooting and Ferguson police department to continue tone deaf whining about the #HandsUpDontShoot protest slogan, conservatives are finally coming to realize the real importance of the report. It should be the catalyst for nationwide criminal justice reform, and they should lead that effort.

This week, leading conservative publications RedState, National Review, and Commentary all have long posts explaining in depth the horrific actions of the Ferguson PD and why conservatives should be leading the charge for reform, not making excuses.

For example, the police department, allegedly a public safety organization, was primarily used to pad the city budget:

While police departments across the country like to repeatedly claim that they do not have “ticket quotas,” and that they are solely interested in public safety, this report gives the lie to that claim, at least in Ferguson. The internal emails collected during this investigation show a pattern of behavior that most Americans have long suspected exists behind closed doors in many police departments: discipline issued for failing to write enough tickets, threatening emails to cops who are under performing in writing tickets, and prominent “score sheets” posted showing who top “performers” are.

If you read nothing else in the report, flip to page nine, roman numeral 3, and read that section. The results of this tremendous top-down pressure are astounding. Between the years of 2010 and 2014, revenues from fines and fees assessed by the Ferguson PD almost tripled, from $1.38M to over $3.0M. As a consequence, the portion of the city’s budget that was comprised by revenue from these fines increased from about 10% to about 25%. Each year the city has budgeted for these increases and clearly ordered the FPD to get them at any cost.

While many conservatives have tried to undermine the statistical evidence of racial bias in the city’s enforcement regime, the excuses just don’t stand up to scrutiny:

Despite being searched at higher rates, African Americans are 26% less likely to have contraband found on them than whites: 24% of searches of African Americans resulted in a contraband finding, whereas 30% of searches of whites resulted in a contraband finding. This disparity exists even after controlling for the type of search conducted, whether a search incident to arrest, a consent search, or a search predicated on reasonable suspicion. The lower rate at which officers find contraband when searching African Americans indicates either that officers’ suspicion of criminal wrongdoing is less likely to be accurate when interacting with African Americans or that officers are more likely to search African Americans without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.

In order to extract tribute from their minority victims, the department also criminalized even the slightest erratic behavior, including being mean to them:

Charging documents (again provided by the FPD) revealed that in officers’ own words, they arrested and cited citizens in retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights not to be polite to cops, including one woman who was, by admission, arrested for peacefully calling an officer’s supervisor during the course of that officer making an arrest in her presence that she felt involved the excessive use of force. The Ferguson PD also engaged repeatedly in conduct that can only be described as retaliation against citizens for attempting to videotape them, a behavior that has been roundly condemned on the conservative side of the aisle.

Conservatives rightly condemn this kind of behavior by bureaucrats, legislators, mayors, governors, and presidents. Why not law enforcement?

The Ferguson Police Department, and presumably many others around the country, are acting no differently than a conservative nemesis, the EPA. The federal executive agency has been accused of unfairly targeting a certain group and fining them for even the smallest infraction. Yes, conservatives appreciate the purpose of local law enforcement more than a federal environmental regulator, but that shouldn’t excuse any behavior of those groups. Benefit of the doubt is supposed to be a starting point, not a conclusion.

Local law enforcement is literally the physical embodiment of government force against citizens. When that force is misused, conservatives should be the first to protest, not the last. The criminal justice reform proposals of Rand Paul and others should no longer be seen as a fringe libertarian pet project. The Ferguson report proves that these vital reforms should extend to every city, county, and state in the country to ensure that justice is truly served, blindly.

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