An agreement between the city of Ferguson and the US Justice Department has been approved by a federal judge. It mandates sweeping criminal justice reform where an unarmed 18-year-old was killed by a police officer.
US District Judge Catherine Perry issued her ruling Tuesday following a public hearing in the city of St. Louis, where nearly three dozen people spoke about racial bias in policing.
"I think it's in everyone's best interest and I think it's in the interest of justice," Perry said of the agreement.
The city of Ferguson, Missouri, has been under federal scrutinysince Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white police officer Darren Wilson in 2014. Brown's death - and the subsequent exoneration of the white officer - was a catalyst for months of anti-police brutality protests and, at times, riots.
A subsequent federal inquiry found alarming patterns of racial bias in policing and a municipal court system that generated revenue largely on the backs of poor and minority residents.
Brown's killing and the anger that boiled over in its aftermath helped spawn the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter movement that highlights the disproportionate rate of African-Americans, many of them unarmed, killed by police officers.
Agreement avoids court battles
The 129-page agreement requires that Ferguson police officers undergo bias-awareness training and that the department implement an accountability system. The city also agreed that officers must ensure that stop, search and arrest practices do not discriminate on the basis of race or other factors protected under law.
The city has 60 days to install cameras in police cars and on uniforms for greater transparency in police and civilian interactions. Also within 60 days, the finance director must be removed from the role of municipal court oversight, and low-income residents need to be given more options in paying outstanding court fines and fees.
The city council in Ferguson approved the agreement in March after receiving assurances from the US Justice Department that it would work with the Midwestern city to ensure it would not cripple city finances.
Mayor James Knowles III said after the hearing that the city has already implemented many reforms, and will act swiftly on others to "move into compliance as soon as possible."
The Justice Department's critical report in March 2015 prompted the resignations of Ferguson's city manager, police chief and municipal judge. All three were white men who have since been replaced by black men.
A skeptical public
Ferguson resident Felicia Pulliam said at the public hearing that Ferguson officials had continually denied that the city has a race problem, leaving her to wonder if they will take the agreement seriously.
"They can't be trusted," she said. "They never, ever, tell the truth."
Others residents, like Kelly Schlereth, who has lived in Ferguson for more than two decades, rose to the defense of city police.
"The (Department of Justice) has consistently been biased in their investigation into the practices of the Ferguson police department," Schlereth wrote in public comments.
After unrest in Ferguson, a number of other US cities have entered into police reform pacts, including Seattle, Washington DC and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
jar/se (AP, Reuters)