ST. LOUIS ― Not far from the courthouse where a white former police officer was acquitted Friday in the shooting death of a black man, a federal judge said in a hearing that officials in the suburb of Ferguson had made “good progress” since 2014.
Barricades and yellow police tape surrounded the building Tuesday, evidence of the protests that have been going on since Jason Stockley was found not guilty in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. But the mood was more hopeful inside the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry, who is overseeing the federal consent decree struck last year between Ferguson and the Justice Department. At issue in the decree are the unconstitutional policing practices that came to light in 2014 after a white police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown.
In the hearing, Jude Volek of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told Perry that the DOJ was committed to seeing reforms through in Ferguson. Volek said the city had made “good faith” efforts to meet the demands of the consent decree, which came about after federal investigators issued a damning report finding that the city, among other abuses, had treated residents as sources of revenue rather than as citizens to be protected.
The sunny progress report on Ferguson came against the backdrop of the demonstrations in St. Louis. While there had been some vandalism in the later evening hours, Monday’s protest did not result in any property damage. The police response had been aggressive at times, with St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” after arresting citizens en masse (at least one journalist among them) on Sunday evening.
Despite the concerns of St. Louis residents about policing in their city, it’s a safe bet that the city won’t be forced to implement reform the same way Ferguson was. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear that the Trump administration won’t be pursuing “pattern and practice” investigations that examine the conduct of police departments systemically rather than focusing on individual incidents. And last week, on the day Stockley was found not guilty, the DOJ announced that it was backing away from “collaborative reform,” a more gentle way of implementing changes to police conduct through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a process that had been underway in the St. Louis County…