Advocates are calling for full accountability from President Obama and the Department of Justice (DOJ) after the death of Michael Brown—the unarmed Black teen shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri—and for systemic changes to discriminatory police practices nationwide.
A coalition of social justice organizations, led by ColorOfChange.org and including groups like CREDO, Moms Rising, MoveOn.org, and the Organization for Black Struggle, delivered about 950,000 signatures from a petition drive calling for accountability in Ferguson and criminal justice policy reforms to the White House on Thursday.
About 100 supporters showed up outside the White House to rally around the petition delivery, holding signs that read “Justice” and encouraging people to text a number to get involved in the campaign.
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One young woman of color held a hand-written sign reading, “I am afraid to have a child one day.”
Ferguson-area organizer Jamala Rogers of the Organization for Black Struggle and Missouri state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) spoke to the crowd about the local community’s lack of faith in the current investigation, and the need for justice when it comes to the over-policing of Black communities.
“The story is way beyond Mike Brown,” Rogers said. “All urban poor are enduring the same kind of crises with law enforcement accountability we’ve seen in Ferguson. It could’ve been anywhere.”
“The investigation is going extremely slow,” Nasheed told Rewire. “The governor predicted it would take 18 months. The community is outraged because of Bob McCulloch being on the case, and they don’t believe he can be fair and impartial.”
Ferguson residents and community leaders have expressed concern about McCulloch, St. Louis County’s prosecuting attorney who has a history of siding with authorities in instances of police shootings.
The Department of Justice is conducting its own investigation into civil rights issues surrounding the case, but that’s a different process from the criminal investigation into Brown’s death and Officer Darren Wilson’s culpability in shooting him.
Obama could put pressure on Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to appoint a special prosecutor and remove McCulloch, Nasheed said. “That would ease a lot of tension.”
“There’s a lot that the DOJ could gain by being more heavily involved in what’s going on with policing in Missouri,” Matt Nelson, organizing director at ColorOfChange.org, told Rewire. The justice department can show leadership on how law enforcement officers should interact with civilians, he said, and could look into other incidents of police violence in Missouri like the shooting of Kajieme Powell in St. Louis.
The goals of the petition and related advocacy are twofold, Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, told Rewire. One is to make sure the investigation into Brown’s death has real teeth and accountability, and the other is to take a closer look at policies on the federal level that may either encourage or discourage good policing practices.
One example of encouraging poor practices, he said, is the money spent on the drug war and stop-and-frisk that encourages quota-based, “broken windows” policing in communities of color.
Robinson said there are no national standards holding police departments accountable for their actions. “Police officers don’t report on other police officers without some sort of external evaluation system,” he said.
“We don’t have a real federal database on people who have been abused, hurt, or murdered by police officers,” Robinson said. “There’s also no road map for change—which police departments are doing things well, and how we can hold them up and lift them up.” Nor are there national standards for things like anti-bias training, he added.
Robinson said he’s been in talks with the White House about the need for these and other specific policy changes.
He was also one of many signers on a letter to President Obama, printed in the Washington Post, that called for reforms like DOJ guidelines for anti-bias training and police diversity hiring, appointing a federal czar to monitor suspicious local law enforcement activities, and establishing more transparent, democratic, and enforceable standards of accountability for when police shoot unarmed civilians.
“The community has to have faith that these investigations are going to lead to something,” Robinson said. “The reason why there is an investigation now is because the people of Ferguson were not calm—because they stood up, because they raised their voices. And we’re keeping the heat on.”