Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week will launch a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, according to two federal law enforcement officials.That's good news, but this makes it even better:
The investigation, which could be announced as early as Thursday afternoon, will be conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division and follow a process similar to that used to investigate complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force in other police departments across the country, the officials said.
The federal officials said the probe will look not only at Ferguson but also at other police departments in St. Louis County.Why is it important to go beyond Ferguson? Simple: Because the problems in Ferguson are not unique to Ferguson. Darren Wilson needs to be held accountable for killing Mike Brown, but when it comes to the broader issues at stake, there is clearly a regional issue in St. Louis County.
This long post from Radley Balko explains in wrenching detail what those problems are. In short—and I say that knowing that no summary can do justice to what Balko wrote—the criminal justice system in suburban St. Louis County has been twisted into a corrupt bureaucracy that uses its police and jails to harass and incarcerate poor, mostly black, citizens in order to extract revenue from them in the form of fines. If anyone should be going to jail, it's the people that are running that system, not the people that are victims of it. Balko's report is replete with examples on how twisted it is—it's a must-read if you want to understand why it's so essential that this investigation take place and why it needs to have teeth.