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No Ferguson Agenda? Justice Department Finds Routine Violations of Constitutional Rights

Remember when Speaker Diehl said that there would be “no Ferguson agenda” in the General Assembly at the beginning of session?

Well, the Justice Department just released a scathing report on Ferguson, finding that police officers routinely violated the constitutional rights of the city’s black residents through unjustified traffic stops and the use of excessive force. 

The issues highlighted in the DOJ report are not isolated to Ferguson. The Missouri Attorney General’s report on racial profiling in traffic stops found that black drivers in Missouri were 66 percent more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white drivers, according to 2013 statistics. That marked the 11th time in the 14 years the data have been collected that there has been a year-to-year increase. 

In the wake of the unrest in Ferguson and the St. Louis metropolitan area, several lawsuits have been filed against cities for municipal court practices like illegally jailing hundreds of black residents for unpaid debts, many of those debts stemming from traffic tickets.

Ferguson officials must now decide whether to negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department or face being sued on charges of violating the Constitution. 

In Jefferson City, members of the General Assembly have the opportunity to demonstrate leadership by prioritizing legislation that would reform the municipal court system, require that the Attorney General appoint a special prosecutor for all officer involved shootings, and reform law enforcement training practices.

And if the issues exposed in the Justice Department’s Ferguson report aren’t on the agenda in the Capitol, Speaker Diehl and the majority under the dome need to right that wrong as soon as possible.