Commentary: Ferguson Resignations Reflect the Effectiveness of Protests

Keith Boykin

Commentary: Ferguson Resignations Reflect the Effectiveness of Protests

Police chief Tom Jackson stepped down on Wednesday.

Published March 11, 2015

To all the critics, doubters and haters who questioned the effectiveness of the Black Lives Matter movement, it's time to revisit Ferguson.

Just a few months ago, well-meaning detractors were busy questioning the young protest movement's strategy and tactics, but the protesters themselves never wavered from their cause. While commentators moved onto other topics, the movement stayed focused on Ferguson and the broader issue of officially-sanctioned violence against African-Americans in communities across the country.

This week the protesters started to see the dividends of their hard work. In a long overdue move that surely will not quell the fury over racist police practices, Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson today reportedly announced his resignation from his post. Jackson's announcement comes at the end of a week-long, citywide cleansing, that has already forced the removal of the municipal court clerk, two police supervisors, a municipal judge and the city manager.

The resignations and firings of these city figures came after the U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing report last week condemning the city for treating its Black residents "less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue."

Among the findings in the report, a 32-year-old African-American man who lost his job after being publicly humiliated by the police, pulled out of his parked car at gunpoint, wrongly accused of being a pedophile and charged with giving a false name because he identified himself with the short form of his name, as in "Mike" instead of "Michael."

Then there was the African-American woman who paid $550 for a parking ticket eight years ago but still owes $541 for the minor offense.

The report also told of a Black landlord police arrested in 2013 for no reason while on their way to arrest a tenant in the landlord's building.

There was also a Black motorist police cited for a broken brake light in October 2012 even though the light on his car was actually working at the time.

One officer ordered a man minding his own business waiting for a bus to "get the f*** over here," demanded his ID to run a warrant search, found none, and then told the man to "get the hell out of my face."

Another officer in November 2013 arrested five young African-Americans for marijuana even though no marijuana was found in their vehicle.

And just last summer, one officer told a married father at a city park, "You’re going to jail because your wife keeps running her mouth."

None of these revelations in the Justice Department's stunning report would have been publicly disclosed were it not for the relentless efforts of the protesters who have kept this issue in the news while much of the rest of the country tried to stop paying attention.

But the report also (indirectly) questions the credibility of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who testified to a grand jury investigating the shooting death of Michael Brown that when he confronted Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson last August, he politely asked, "Why don’t you guys walk on the sidewalk?"

This suddenly polite-speaking Officer Wilson is the same cop who arrested a man for recording him during a separate incident in 2013. "If you...take a picture of me one more time, I’m gonna lock your ass up," Wilson told the photographer.

Wilson's past conduct and the disrespectful behavior of his fellow police officers suggest that Dorian Johnson's version of events — that Wilson yelled, "get the f*** on the sidewalk," to Mike Brown — seems more believable than Wilson's self-serving testimony to the grand jury.

Yet it would be a mistake to assume that Officer Wilson is the only bad cop on America's police forces or that Ferguson is the only city where police treat Black residents as ATM machines instead of citizens. Of the 21 municipalities in St. Louis County that collected over 20 percent of their general operating revenue from court fines and fees, Ferguson was not even on that list. That means the problem may be just as bad or worse in other neighboring towns.

Ferguson issued more warrants than any city in the state relative to its size, but it was not the worst in racial disparities or fines per person. As the Missouri Attorney General reported, Black drivers were 66 percent more likely than white drivers to be stopped throughout the state of Missouri in 2013.

I'm from St. Louis, and I recognize the seriousness of the problem in that area, but I've also lived in several other cities and I've seen similar conditions there as well. This is not an isolated incident. As the New York Times reported this week, the unfairness in the court system "is not limited to...St. Louis County or even to Missouri."

That's all the more reason why the protests must go on, in Ferguson, in Cleveland, in New York and elsewhere throughout the country. One police chief's resignation is not enough to solve a systemic problem any more than one bad cop's indictment would have. But none of the actions we've seen in the past week would have taken place if protesters hadn't forced the issue.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Written by Keith Boykin


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