Yes, the Justice System in Ferguson is Broken, But Studies Show How Surrounding Towns Are Too


By Shaun King

While Ferguson, Missouri, has become the symbol for all that can go wrong at the intersection of racism and the justice system, a plethora of new studies are showing that the problems of Ferguson extend way beyond its city limits into surrounding towns in Missouri and all over the country.

While statistics alone are not clear-cut proof of discrimination, there are cities around St. Louis with far greater racial disparities in traffic stops than Ferguson, and cities with court systems that appear even more predatory than the Justice Department says Ferguson’s is. According to a report from Better Together, a nonprofit group, Ferguson does not even rank among the top 20 municipalities in St. Louis County in the percentage of its budget drawn from court fines and fees. The small city of Edmundson, five miles away, brings in nearly $600 a year in court fines for every resident, more than six times the amount in Ferguson.
— Study quoted by Shaun King, Daily Kos

At the heart of the DOJ's Ferguson report are three main ideas:

1. The government used citations and fees as a primary source of funding.

2. African Americans in Ferguson were disproportionately cited for crimes small and large.

3. Other instances of racism were found.

The reality is, though, that a variation of these three main ideas can be found in countless other cities—sometimes with even worse conditions than Ferguson. For instance, according to the NY Times, in Ferguson, police stopped African-American motorists at 1.4 times their percentage of the population, but in nearby Chesterfield it's actually 3 times, St. Charles 2.8 times, and Florissant 2.7 times. In Springfield, in southern Missouri, African-American motorists have been stopped 3.4 times their percentage of the population.

A powerful study conducted by USA Today determined that outside of Missouri, disparities are often so outrageous that they actually dwarf the numbers found in Ferguson. For instance, consider Dearborn, Michigan:

More than half of the people Dearborn police arrested in 2011 and 2012 were black, according to reports they submitted to the FBI. By comparison, about 4% of the city’s residents are black, as are about a quarter of the people who live in Metropolitan Detroit. Over those two years, the department reported arresting 4,500 black people – 500 more than lived in the city. As a result, the arrest rate for blacks, compared with the city’s population, was 26 times higher than for people of other races.
— USA Today Study

That study also zeroed in on just how problematic the towns surrounding Ferguson are.

Arrest rates are particularly lopsided in some pockets of the country, including St. Louis’ Missouri suburbs near Ferguson. In St. Louis County alone, more than two dozen police departments had arrest rates more lopsided than Ferguson’s. In nearby Clayton, Mo., for example, only about 8% of residents are black, compared with about 57% of people the police arrested.
— USA Today Study

None of this is said to give Ferguson a pass, but to show just how widespread the problems identified by the Ferguson report are all across the country.