The DOJ Inflames Racial Tensions in Ferguson


FergusonThough it has scarcely garnered the attention it deserves, the U.S. Department of Justice has released a report exonerating Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown last year in Ferguson, Missouri. As I note in my new column for Defining Ideas, the Justice Department should, in the interest of civic harmony, be doing everything it can to call attention to the report’s findings:

What the DOJ now has to do is to acknowledge that the killing of Michael Brown was a justifiable homicide. It must abandon its contrived legalisms and defend Wilson, by condemning unequivocally the entire misguided campaign against him, which resulted in threats against his life and forced his resignation from the police force. Eric Holder owes Wilson an apology for the unnecessary anguish that Wilson has suffered. As the Attorney General for all Americans, he must tell the protestors once and for all that their campaign has been thoroughly misguided from start to finish, and that their continued protests should stop in the interests of civic peace and racial harmony. In light of the past vilification of Wilson, it is not enough for the DOJ to publish the report, and not trumpet its conclusions. It is necessary to put that report front and center in the public debate so that everyone now understands that Wilson behaved properly throughout the entire incident.

At the same time, however, the DOJ has issued a report claiming systemic prejudice in the Ferguson Police Department, an odd conclusion given that the investigation was surely undertaken to identify the “root causes” of Wilson’s misbehavior — misbehavior that they now admit did not occur. As I write:

The evidence is no better when the DOJ resorts to statistical evidence to show that the police force has behaved in an improper way because “African Americans experience disparate impact in nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system. Despite making up 67% of the population, African Americans accounted for 85% of FPD’s traffic stops, 90% of FPD’s citations, and 93% of FPD’s arrests from 2012 to 2014.”

The point here represents a gross abuse of statistical evidence for two reasons. First, the disparity in arrests for various offenses ignores one question that matters: did African Americans commit these various offenses at a higher rate than the rest of the population? If they did, then the evidence is perfectly consistent with even-handed enforcement. Second, the report gives no information about the arrest rates in other communities. As John Lott has noted, “The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2011 Police-Public Contact Survey indicates that, nationwide, blacks were 31 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over for a traffic stop.” If so, then the Ferguson numbers are consistent with national norms, and thus do not show any distinctive form of racial bias.

The evidence here points to a Justice Department more concerned with advancing a political agenda than accurately representing the reality of the situation in Ferguson. At a time when tensions in the city are running high, that is a grave mistake.

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  1. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer

    Richard Epstein:

    In light of the past vilification of Wilson, it is not enough for the DOJ to publish the report, and not trumpet its conclusions. It is necessary to put that report front and center in the public debate so that everyone now understands that Wilson behaved properly throughout the entire incident.

    Amen. Thank you for publishing this, professor.

    • #1
  2. user_138562 Moderator

    The reality doesn’t matter to a whole lot of people.  “Hands up, don’t shoot” is their mantra and it doesn’t matter that Michael Brown was attacking Wilson.  In their minds, they know what happened and no report will convince them that Michael Brown wasn’t gunned down simply for being black.  Maybe if Al Sharpton released a report exonerating Officer Wilson they’d believe it, but I don’t expect that to happen.

    • #2
  3. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer

    Also noteworthy: this entire controversy can be traced back to Dorian Johnson’s lies about the incident. The entire “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” meme started with him — or, at least, morphed out of his comments — and there wasn’t a lick of truth to it.

    I’m of the Cooke school in demanding that those who actually perpetrate violence be primarily held accountable, but this little creep and his enablers have caused tremendous damage to our society. Shameful.

    • #3
  4. user_82762 Thatcher


    Thank you for this. Nothing has nauseated me more than the Attorney General of the United States fomenting riots and murder over an incident that he must know has no basis in fact. The statistical report about disparate impact is a joke. They have tortured Officer Wilson and the town of Ferguson for nothing.

    At long long last Mr. Holder and Mr. Obama have you no shame?!



    • #4
  5. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Democrats don’t know the meaning of shame.  Remember, they are all about “removing stigmas” for just about any behavior.  Their anarchist buddies perpetrate riots all the time, and are rarely punished for it.

    • #5
  6. iDad Member


    Rachel Lu:


    Rachel Lu:


    “OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.”

    Sorry, but this is utter nonsense that mars an otherwise thoughtful piece.

    Is it? I think it’s possible. I’m not saying it happened, but police can behave like bullies sometimes. Even if Brown was provoked he could have chosen to respond differently, but I think it’s going too far to suggest that Wilson was clearly innocent of any wrong. I think the grand jury’s decision was right, but it certainly isn’t crystal clear what actually happened that night.

    Watson doesn’t say that Wilson might not have been “clearly innocent of any wrong.” He suggests that Wilson “provoked Michael” then killed him “to prove a point.”

    The fact that something isn’t “crystal clear” does not justify malicious conjecture in the absence of proof. What evidence – as opposed to speculation about what’s “possible’ – is there that Wilson provoked Brown, then killed him to prove a point?

    In cases such as these, a fair amount of conjecture is permissible; we all want to consider the real possibilities for what might have happened. As for “evidence” that Brown was provoked, I’ll just say this: cops do sometimes provoke people unnecessarily, and it’s somewhat odd that Brown would be so aggressive if not in any way provoked. That’s very far from dispositive, but I think enough to justify this level of conjecture.

    The phrase “to prove a point” may be taking things a little far, but I don’t think it’s egregious. Cops are capable of being culpably callous about the value of human life.

    So – no evidence, just conjecture.

    The above is an exchange I had with another Ricochet member in November:

    The DOJ isn’t the only one that needs to acknowledge that the vilification of Darren Wilson was wholly unjustified.

    • #6
  7. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty

    Someone should point this out to two thirds of GLOP.

    • #7
  8. Ricochet Member

    I live in a town which has racial demographics similar to ferguson. It’s a fairly small town, so everyone generally knows everyone else’s business, and basic facts of life are harder to obscure behind clouds of politically correct squid ink. The disparate crime and arrest rates — which so scandalized the reporters at CNN — simply reflect realities on the ground in communities such as this. Around these parts, young black males are generally left to raise themselves — usually in wretched living conditions and with no father to guide them. Some rise above this cesspit, but most do not. And the results are both dismal and predictable.

    • #8
  9. user_138562 Moderator

    Speaking of disparate arrest rates, there are very close to an even number of men and women almost everywhere you go.  Are men and women arrested at the same rates?  I know when I watch my evening news they sure seem to arrest more men than women.  Do the police have a grudge against men, or could it be that men in fact do commit more crimes than women?

    • #9
  10. Ricochet Member

    Thank you, Richard Epstein.

    • #10
  11. Howellis Member

    If ever there was an occasion for the president to invite a policeman to have a beer with him this is it.

    Imagine the effect of Obama sitting down at the same table where he met with Henry Louis Gates and Sergeant James Crowley, but this time it’s with Darren Wilson. At this fantasy summit, the president is heard to ask Wilson to forgive him and his attorney general for fomenting the racial unrest that caused Wilson so much grief and harm, when he was just trying to do his duty.

    Now, that’s what a man would do.

    • #11
  12. Ricochet Moderator

    Thanks John this is a great essay. There are some concerns among some conservatives and libertarians concerning abusive police practices. My concern as a former police officer is the federalization of local law enforcement agencies by the DOJ. I wrote a post based upon John Lott’s study of the DOJ’s report on Ferguson. I hope you don’t mind that I posted the link to my post.

    • #12
  13. user_657161 Member

    Same as the scorpion, our community organizers are going to do what is in their nature.  Let the revolution begin.  Forward!

    • #13
  14. Ricochet Member

    Thank you, Prof. Epstein.  I think that far too many conservative commentators have given credence to the DoJ report on Ferguson police practices, which looks to me like precisely what you have described — a politically motivated “hatchet job” with little or no legitimate substantiation, released to provide cover for the wholesale implosion of the Left’s (and the AG’s) false narrative about the shooting of Michael Brown.

    • #14
  15. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum

    Oh, my aching head…Appreciate this piece, Professor; but, aren’t you preaching to the choir here?…Just wondering what good it does to be right on the merits when nothing on the ground seems to improve…Frustrating!

    • #15
  16. user_278007 Member

    Given Mr. Holder’s well-known record of bias, one would think that his report would be met with a bit of skepticism – if not by the press then at least by conservatives.

    • #16

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