A day after the Department of Justice’s report, racist e-mails exchanged between Ferguson police officers are capturing headlines and, perhaps, dominating social media shares. One officer has been fired and two others have been placed on administrative leave. “This type of behavior will not be tolerated,” Mayor James Knowles said at an evening press conference yesterday at which he took no questions. But, truly, racist e-mails rank among the least disturbing parts of a report so caustic it reads like an Onion article. What struck me was that Ferguson’s revenue-driven policing effectively steals from working-class and poor African-Americans–and the City of Ferguson has not conducted a full accounting of the cost of that theft.
In the DOJ report, we learn that as a result of eight charges stemming from false arrest, one 32-year-old man lost his job as a contractor with the federal government (read: good benefits). We also learn that one woman is still paying down on an illegal parking ticket she received seven years ago. As of December 2014 she had paid $550 on a $150 court fine–and still owed $541. These examples are necessary but the picture is still incomplete. What if in addition to the DOJ’s thorough report into the city’s institutions, there was also a separate audit to tally the economic cost of institutional racism?
Ferguson’s predation disrupted not just residents’ lives but their households’, too–but how? How does losing a federal contract for sitting in a parked car on a hot day impact a 32-year-old man and his family?
Sustained police misconduct or abuse isn’t only about criminal justice. It’s an economic and livelihood issue, too. But the latter is harder to see if there’s not also a commensurate accounting of all that the city of Ferguson stole.