WASHINGTON (AA) – A year after the police shooting of an unarmed black teen set off widespread protests and riots in a St. Louis suburb, an independent panel has found deep-seated racial divides feeding the region’s ethnic disparities.
The 16-member Ferguson Commission, appointed last November by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, released its findings Monday.
The 198-page report urged reform in the use of police force, called for greater law enforcement training, increased police transparency through civilian review, and improved police responses to public demonstrations.
“The data suggests, time and again, that our institutions and existing systems are not equal, and that this has racial repercussions,” the commission wrote. “We have not moved beyond race.”
But the commission acknowledged that it is powerless to implement the suggested reforms. Any additional steps will likely require action from the state legislature, and it is uncertain if lawmakers will heed the commission’s suggestions.
Racial tensions were brought to the fore with the shooting death of 18-year-old Ferguson resident Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014.
While Wilson was cleared of any wrongdoing, the city’s black residents remain distrustful of the proceedings and the city’s judicial and policing systems. Their distrust stems from a history of heightened tensions with law enforcement.
“The regular use of force has led many citizens to view the police as an occupying force in their neighborhoods, damaging community trust, and making community safety even more difficult,” the report said.
“Relations between community and police in our region and in Ferguson were strained before Aug. 9, 2014. But the events that occurred on that day and in the months that followed have forever changed the way many citizens in Ferguson—and throughout the region—see law enforcement,” it added in reference to the day Brown was shot. “Repairing that relationship will not be easy.”
A federal investigation by the Justice Department found sweeping rights abuses in Ferguson’s police, judicial and penal systems.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time that the city uses the police force as a “collection agency”, pointing to data that suggested blacks were more likely to receive multiple citations during a single incident with police.
The department found that during the course of two years, Ferguson’s police department issued at least four citations to blacks stemming from a single incident on 73 occasions, but issued only four or more citations to non-blacks twice.
Blacks also accounted for 93 percent of arrests from 2012 to 2014; 85 percent of vehicle stops and 90 percent of citations, according to the inquiry.
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