The Thursday release of a series of ugly racist emails exposes a deep systemic racial insensitivity within the Ferguson, Missouri municipal government. The emails were uncovered by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as part of its civil rights investigation following the shooting death of unarmed black male Michael Brown, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. Following a Freedom of Information request for documents, the City of Ferguson released the email exchanges between a chief court clerk and two police department supervisors. All of the correspondences were made from official government email accounts.
The emails were released as Ferguson continues to deal with racial unrest and tension from the shooting and massive demonstrations that followed. The same DOJ investigation that cleared Officer Darren Wilson of any civil rights violations did little to quell the distrust of the black community towards the municipal government. These insensitive emails will only intensify the tension in an already reeling community.
The electronic exchanges in question were between chief court clerk Mary Ann Twitty, police sergeant William J. Mudd, and police captain, Richard Henke. While Twitty was fired by the city, both Mudd and Henke were forced to resign. In one email, Barack Obama was characterized as a chimpanzee being bottle fed by Ronald Reagan. In another email, a photo of bare-chested African tribal women was referred to as a Michelle Obama class reunion. These emails expose the tip of an iceberg of racial insensitivity within the governmental system of Ferguson.
In a municipality that depends largely on vehicular and related enforcement revenue, blacks are disproportionately stopped and ticketed for their share of the population demographics. It is worth acknowledging that Michael Brown was initially stopped for jaywalking.
African Americans make up 67 percent of the Ferguson population. Yet according to a report from the Missouri Attorney General, 86 percent of traffic stops and an astounding 93 percent of arrests were of African Americans. Residents report that they have been fined as much as $500 for jaywalking. As of late 2014, the Ferguson police department had over 16,000 arrest warrants outstanding, most of which were for traffic and moving violations.
A glance at the makeup of municipal government indicates a racial disparity in representation to match the trend in law enforcement procedures. In a city that is majority African American, Ferguson has a primarily white government: a white mayor, a town council with only one black member, a school board with no black members (now that the one black board member was suspended), and a police force that is only six percent black. The racial unrest in Ferguson has had a galvanizing effect on the black community as they struggle to empower leadership within its ranks. The trend is changing as activists and community leaders attempt to diversify the face of Ferguson.
Several top city officials, including the police chief and city manager, have left their jobs subsequent to the DOJ report. The DOJ report combined with Thursday’s release of racist emails, exposes a continuing racial insensitivity within the Ferguson political system. It has once again thrust the town into the spotlight of race relations in the United States.
By Chris Marion
Photo by Brett Myers – Flickr License