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US probe finds racial bias in Ferguson justice system

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Police in Ferguson, Missouri, routinely engaged in racial bias and stereotyping, the U.S. Justice Department is said to have concluded following an investigation sparked by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen.

A report expected to be released as early as Wednesday details a sweeping pattern of discrimination not only among officers but also at the town’s jail and court, the Associated Press said citing a law enforcement official familiar with findings.

Findings are said to include evidence that police disproportionately use excessive force against black individuals and that black drivers are stopped and searched far more often than white motorists, even though they are less likely to be carrying contraband.

The Justice Department also found that black people were 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal court judge, and that from April to September of last year, 95 percent of people kept at the city jail for more than two days were black, according to the official. Overall, black Americans make up 67 percent of Ferguson’s population.

The civil rights investigation followed the August shooting of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. The death sparked weeks of protests both in Ferguson and across the country.

Wilson told a state grand jury that he feared for his life during the confrontation, which began after he told Brown, who were walking in the street, to move to the sidewalk.

During a struggle, Wilson said Brown reached inside the driver’s-side window of his patrol car, struck him in the face and reached for his service weapon. Brown ran, and Wilson said he shot at him after the teenager charged at him.

But this version of events has been disputed. Some witnesses said Brown never posed a threat and was standing with his hands up before he was shot.

A grand jury cleared Wilson of wrongdoing, and he resigned days later, but the case has nonetheless become a symbol to many of a broken justice system that works against black Americans. A separate Justice Department report to be issued soon is expected to clear the officer, Darren Wilson, of federal civil rights charges.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for the family of Michael Brown, Anthony Gray, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the report was “upsetting,” while adding he was “not surprised.”

“This wasn’t just about one teen being shot down in the street in broad daylight,” Gray told the Post-Dispatch. “But rather this came out of a mindset and a culture within the police department that allowed this to occur as it did.”

The official who spoke to the Associated Press said the report will allege direct evidence of racial bias among police officers and court workers and detail a criminal justice system that prioritizes generating revenue over public safety.

Among the findings of the report was a racially tinged 2008 message in a municipal email account stating that President Barack Obama would not be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

The Post-Dispatch also cited another email reportedly sent in May 2011 that read: “An African American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.’ ”

The Post-Dispatch said it was not clear who wrote the emails.

Ferguson city officials were meeting with the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday to go over the results of the federal probe.

City officials have said in recent weeks that they are bracing for possible charges of civil rights violations and federal demands for reform.

“We don’t know what is going to be said,” said Ferguson spokesman Jeff Small said on Tuesday. “But it has been a frustrating process that we hoped to avoid.”

The department has conducted roughly 20 broad civil rights investigations of police departments during the tenure of Attorney General Eric Holder, including Cleveland, Newark, New Jersey and Albuquerque. Most of those investigations end with the police department agreeing to changes its practices. Al Jazeera

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