After months of violence, protests and criticism of the handling of the high-profile shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by a Ferguson, MO police officer, Chief Thomas Jackson announced Wednesday he is stepping down. Jackson, who was named chief in 2010, said he would officially resign on March 19. The news came just a day after Ferguson City Manager John Shaw announced he, too, would step down.
Tension between the mostly white police force and citizens of color in Ferguson resurfaced when the shooter, Officer Darren Wilson was cleared of all wrong doing in the Brown case. A grand jury decided there was not enough probable cause to charge him with any crime in connection with the shooting.
Ferguson’s image was further tarnished by the release of a scathing report by the Department of Justice. In it, were findings that Ferguson police not only perpetuate a pattern of racial bias and profiling, but the department was also believed to have pressured Jackson into raising revenues through excessive fines.
The DOJ revealed that between October 2012 and 2014, blacks, who make up 67 percent of the Ferguson population, accounted for 85 percent of all traffic stops by Ferguson police. Blacks were also twice as likely to be searched during a stop. According to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, some officers would compete to see who could issue the most tickets during a single stop.
"Clearly, these findings -- and others included in the report -- demonstrate that, although some community perceptions of Michael Brown’s tragic death may not have been accurate, the widespread conditions that these perceptions were based upon, and the climate that gave rise to them, were all too real," Holder said.
The city’s heavy-handed tactics reveal a municipality with little regard for the poor or people of color. Appearing on MSNBC with Thomas Roberts, writer Trymaine Lee cited the DOJs findings that Ferguson police supervisors “encouraged them (officers) to ‘ticket’ as much as possible. They were putting city revenue over the safety of residents. So while they had one stop, they were trying to see how many (other) charges they could pile on.”
News reports surfaced last month about some Ferguson motorists being jailed because they were unable to pay the hefty fines for minor infractions imposed by the city. “Debtor’s Prison” was outlawed in the U.S. more than 200 years ago.
When asked if Chief Jackson willingly resigned or was pushed out, Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal replied, “Well, many of us have been pushing him out—trying to do so for months now.” She added, “I am so excited and elated that Chief Jackson has made the right decision. This is going to restore confidence in Ferguson.”
Jackson raised the ire of protestors, when he announced that Brown had stolen cigars and shoved a clerk shortly before his shooting. He was accused of intentionally trying to smear Brown's character.
In the past week, three Ferguson employees were fired or resigned over racist emails and a municipal judge was removed from the Missouri Supreme Court for reportedly owing about $170,000 in back taxes and overseeing a highly criticized system that brought in a significant revenue increase which came from fines and traffic citations.