The Worst Part Of The DOJ's Report On Ferguson

Police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

We know that the Department of Justice will continue to investigate the Ferguson Police Department. And, if Ferguson doesn't adhere to whichever changes the DOJ orders them to make, they will face some type of consequence. We know we'll use the empirical evidence of the systematic racism in Ferguson to continue to fuel our own feelings about race and the police, to continue to protest and demand policy changes, to push for more federal investigations of more police departments, and to win any arguments against someone who refuses to admit a system of pervasive and "legal" racial oppression can exist in America in 2015.

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But what about the people currently living in Ferguson?

I imagine that the DOJ's findings were vindicating. And vindication — especially about something as charged as this topic — can have very real mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Still, whichever changes the DOJ orders the Ferguson Police Department to make are going to take some time to happen. And, even when they happen, the attitudes, the arrogance, and the general feeling of omnipotence that allowed such an environment to exist and thrive are going to take even longer to change.

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But people living in Ferguson today are living in Ferguson today. And they're living there today with actual proof that the police force sworn to protect and serve them actually has no intention on doing so. Not a strong suspicion that the police force might be racist, but actual proof. But the police are unavoidable. They're not a department store you can just decide to stop shopping in or a Facebook friend you can block. They are not going anywhere. They will continue to police. And they have weapons. Lots of weapons. And they're…necessary.

This irony is what makes the DOJ's report and another instances of rampant police misconduct so maddening. Regardless of how we personally feel about them, policing serves a vital purpose. If bad shit happens to you, contacting them and turning your bad issue into a legal issue is by far the best way to find a resolution and some form of justice. (Well, at least it is now.)

But let's say you're a homeowner in Ferguson and your house gets robbed tonight. And you just spent the entire day reading about the Ferguson PD's ridiculous racism. And you remember that time a couple years ago when you got stopped just for walking down the street, cited for asking what you did wrong, and arrested (and tased) for adjusting your belt. Do you even call the cops?

Shit, you might as well just call the dude who just robbed you. At least you won't get charged for stealing your own shit. And he might even feel bad and give it back.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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DISCUSSION

I was raised in Jennings, Mo., the Ferguson-adjacent town where the police department was disbanded for the very reasons the DOJ listed in its reports on the Ferguson Police Department. The sentiment I've heard echoed is, "OK, now what?" My friends and family have been living under these conditions for decades, but what are they supposed to do now?

Honestly, I don't feel a sense of validation with the DOJ report. It's like when women were yelling about street harassment, but no one paid attention until that stupid video last fall. Knowing doesn't change anything until a plan is put into action.