US sues Ferguson over police reform disagreement

US Justice Department sues Ferguson, Missouri, after city demands reforms on agreement over its policing and judicial system

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch holds a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, in this November 16, 2015 file photo.

The US Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit against Ferguson, Missouri on Wednesday aiming to enforce changes to its policing and judicial system after the city said it wanted to revise an agreement it had reached with the federal agency.

A year after fatal shooting of black teen Michael Brown by the police, a report released in March 2015 after an investigation by US Department of Justice, highlighted a long history of racial divides and inequalities in the practices of law enforcement in St. Louis area.

The report urged reforms in several areas including police practices and the court system to fix racial issues and change overall racial climate that intensified after a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot dead the unarmed black teenager.

Following seven months of negotiations, Ferguson last month announced a tentative deal with the Justice Department, which calls for reforms to the city's policing and municipal court.

However, on Tuesday, Ferguson's City Council unanimously voted to revise the agreement with the Justice Department.

The council proposed seven amendments to the agreement which they say is too expensive to carry out.

Rejecting the amendments, Justice Department has taken the city to court.

“The residents of Ferguson have waited nearly a year for their city to adopt an agreement that would protect their rights and keep them safe,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a news conference.

She said the agreement that was decided upon had been painstakingly negotiated and Ferguson officials knew that rejecting it would invite litigation.

On the other hand, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told a news conference that reforms had to be affordable and attainable.

“It serves no one’s purpose for us to fail,” he said.

The amendments proposed by the Ferguson’s city council included that it not be required to increase police officers’ pay and police staffing levels. It also said it wanted more time to comply with the other terms.

The city became a symbol of problems with policing and race in the United States after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in August 2014.

It was one of several killings of black men, mostly by white officers, that started a nationwide debate about the use of excessive force by police, especially against minorities.

Knowles said that only in the last two weeks had the city been able to analyse the costs of implementing the decree.

He and city council members said Ferguson had already made some reforms, including community policing and a civilian review board to oversee police.

Civil rights advocates warn that litigation with the Justice Department could cost more than implementing the agreement.

TRTWorld, Reuters