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Federal Judge Approves Ferguson Consent Decree Following Public Hearing

Ferguson, Mo. – Yesterday, following hours of testimony from the public, Judge Catherine Perry, presiding judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, approved a consent decree settling the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the City of Ferguson. After the shooting death of Michael Brown, the DOJ brought this action, resulting in findings of unconstitutional racial bias in policing. The consent decree is the settlement of that lawsuit, and it outlines measures that Ferguson must take to remedy their policing and municipal court practices. The court will oversee Ferguson’s compliance with the decree.

“As African-Americans in Ferguson, we were routinely challenged by the dehumanizing treatment we received in response to our calls to address regular violations of our constitutional rights,” said Mildred Clines, a 28-year resident of Ferguson and member of the Ferguson Collaborative, a grass-roots group of residents and stakeholders who have called for greater community involvement in the consent decree process. “This ruling represents a victory for us and our allies, who decided to stand up for justice. Still, this is only the beginning. Now we need to make sure the terms of the consent decree are followed, and we need an independent monitor to make sure that the city will properly implement this decree,” said Clines, who is also a member of the Ferguson Civilian Review Board Task Force and the Neighborhood Policing Steering Committee established in the wake of the negotiations with the DOJ.

The DOJ investigation found a pattern and practice of unconstitutional racial bias in policing against African-Americans in Ferguson. In order to address this, the decree authorized yesterday features critical components including data collection, training and evaluation, use of force policies and early warning systems.

“Racially biased and exploitive policing practices have had a broad and insidious impact on the community,” said Christine Assefa of Organization for Black Struggle, which has been working closely with the Ferguson Collaborative. “The consent decree itself will not bring about the needed transformations in Ferguson, but the participation in local government by empowered residents committed to change will.”

“A discriminatory approach to policing exacerbates the loss of credibility that police have suffered in Ferguson and in too many other communities of color,” said Denise Lieberman, Senior Attorney at Advancement Project, a racial justice organization that has been working with the Ferguson Collaborative to advance community input in the negotiations. “Over time, it perpetuates deeply embedded inequalities of power and opportunity that have long-term effects in communities. The decree is a critical first step to addressing an entrenched problem, but it must have strong accountability to ensure long-term sustainable change.”

More than 30 members of the public testified at yesterday’s Fairness Hearing on the decree, including members of the Ferguson Collaborative. Even as community members were given a forum to share concerns, it was clear that the judge did not address every key point. As such, advocates will continue to fight for empowered community engagement in the implementation process.

The decree’s success as a long-term tool of reform will depend not just on strong judicial oversight of the decree, but in strengthening the citizen involvement and public accountability aspects of the systemic operations the decree mandates.

The Ferguson Collaborative’s testimony can be accessed through this link:

http://www.moed.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/mdl/16-0180/0037.pdf

The Ferguson Consent Decree approved today can be accessed through this link:

http://www.moed.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/mdl/16-0180/0012-02.pdf

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