U.S. Justice Department to Investigate Police in Ferguson

The world’s attention has been set on the small unincorporated area of Ferguson, Missouri since the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson law enforcement official (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) on August 9th of this year.  Most recently, Attorney General Eric Holder was sent to investigate Brown’s death, determine what he could from the public, and to make an attempt to smooth out tensions that have been bubbling to the surface amongst the citizenry, mainly mass arrests and violent protests.  Recall that Brown was an unarmed 18-year-old when he was shot at least 6 times by the officer.  Though the officer believed Brown to be a suspect in a robbery (CA Penal Code 211) that was committed just before the shooting occurred, many Ferguson residents believe his actions to have been racially charged.  In this atmosphere of racial tension that seems to have existed for quite some time in the area, people are wondering whether the officer will be treated as a police officer who made a grave mistake in the course of his regular duties or whether he executed Brown without cause.

According to an article posted on SFGate, the current presidential administration has a far better track record of holding police accountable when they have acted as if they are above the law when it comes to civil rights.  During the Bush administration, law enforcement officials were prosecuted, on average, about  4.86 time per month in federal courts, whereas during the Obama administration, that number has jumped to a significant 5.5 cases per month (a 13% increase).  As Bob Egelko with SF Gate has it, there is a long history of the federal government stepping in and claiming civil rights violations when it comes to police officers.  He asks us to recall the actions of several New Orleans police officials immediately after Katrina, 1 unarmed man shot in the back and 6 other unarmed citizens killed on the Danzinger Bridge by 5 different officers, some of whom were eventually cleared of all charges.

Thus far, and in Ferguson, Holder has ordered a federal autopsy, visited with witnesses, and tried to determine the best course of action for the federal government in this case.  Preliminary accounts show, however, that a federal claim against the officer is likely to result.  While some see the increase in attention to violations by police as an unnecessary intervention by an over-powerful federal government, others see this as progress.