By Elaine Magliaro
Regarding the Justice Department’s investigation of Ferguson, Missouri, which found that “there was probable cause to believe the police and court routinely violate people’s civil rights” in that community: Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III is not convinced “that widespread problems exist” despite the “DOJ’s damning findings…”
During an interview on Friday, Knowles said that “city officials had a lot of work ahead examining the findings of the scathing, 102-page report.” The mayor added, “There are stories that have been told in that report … that are very concerning, and those things have to be addressed. What they’ve shown is that it has happened. Now, how often has that happened? I don’t know. Their assertion is it happens regularly. Based on what? I’m not sure yet.”
Knowles continued, “Do they have a statistic that tells me that they’ve examined every arrest that we’ve made for the past four years and that half, or all, or 10 percent, or 5 percent are unconstitutional or without cause? They do not have that. They have not examined at that level that I know of at this point.” Knowles said that he and other city officials would be “going through and examining those issues to make sure that there are not conclusions being based on anecdotal evidence.” Knowles “emphasized, though, that any civil rights violations were ‘unacceptable, and you need to write that down.’”
Jeremy Kohler (St. Louise Post-Dispatch) said that although the DOJ report “stated there was probable cause to believe the police and court routinely violate people’s civil rights,” Knowles said, “that’s not proof.” Then the mayor added that “there is probably another side to all of these stories.”
Carimah Townes (ThinkProgress) said that Mayor Knowles “is one of many long-standing officials charged with damage control.” Townes added, “The city will likely enter an agreement with the DOJ to make systemic reforms, in order to avoid a federal lawsuit.”
Knowles contends that cleanup efforts are already underway and offer proof that the situation isn’t dire. But the people tasked with implementing changes were heavily involved in establishing the local law enforcement structure. For instance, Judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer imposed steep fines on African Americans but owes $170,000 in unpaid taxes.
Asked Friday whether Brockmeyer should remain as judge, Knowles said that was “something we have to look at,” although he said he didn’t think Brockmeyer could be removed in the middle of an appointed term without filing a complaint with the Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline.
City Manager John Shaw was another figure criticized in the report for pushing police again and again to increase the money they were raising for the city through traffic enforcement. Asked whether his job was on the line, Knowles said he wasn’t going to talk about potential staffing changes.
“There is a tremendous amount of things he’s been able to do for this community,” Knowles said.
Knowles said he did not plan to make “a quick decision” about Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson. He noted that Jackson “still has a tremendous number of people in this community who support him.”
Kohler said that the mayor of Ferguson “took issue with Department of Justice findings that police disproportionately stop black drivers.” According to Kohler, Knowles “said he believes Ferguson’s businesses are daytime destinations for African-Americans, unfairly skewing the chances that a driver being pulled over will be black.” The mayor added that he hoped his city could come to an agreement with the DOJ as to “what is an effective public policy solution.”
Ferguson mayor says scathing DOJ report ‘not proof’ of widespread abuses (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)