FBI Used Aerial Surveillance in Ferguson
October 22, 2015

(AP) – FBI Director James Comey said Thursday that the agency used its aircraft above Ferguson, Missouri, last year at the request of local law enforcement to help keep track of unrest on the ground.

Comey did not go into details during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, including how long the surveillance lasted.

But in response to questioning, he said the FBI uses airplanes during investigations of specific suspects in criminal, terrorism and espionage investigations and when local police request help during a “developing situation” or emergencies such as riots. He said the planes were never used for mass surveillance.

“We don’t fly planes around America looking down to see if somebody might be doing something wrong,” Comey told the panel.

He said the FBI’s deployment of aircraft in Ferguson, where police and protesters clashed following the August 2014 police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old, was similar to the help offered during riots in Baltimore last April that followed the death of 26-year-old Freddie Gray.

“If there is tremendous turbulence in a community, it’s useful to everybody – civilians and law enforcement – to have a view of what’s going on. Where are the fires in this community? Where are people gathering? Where do people need help? And sometimes the best view of that is above rather than trying to look form a car in the street.”

Nixon Signs Municipal Court Reforms
July 9, 2015

(AP) – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation Thursday limiting cities’ ability to profit from traffic tickets and court fines – the first significant step taken by state lawmakers to address concerns raised after the police shooting of a black, unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson nearly a year ago.
Nixon announced the bill in an ornate courtroom of the Missouri Court of Appeals in downtown St. Louis, near the suburb where white Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown, setting off protests that occasionally turned violent.
Brown was walking in the street, not driving, when he was stopped by Wilson last August and scuffled with the officer. A U.S. Justice Department investigation cleared Wilson of wrongdoing in Brown’s death, and a state grand jury declined to bring charges.
Supporters of the legislation have said it will address the predatory revenue-generating practices of Ferguson’s police and court system that were detailed in a Justice Department report.
Some protesters said the generally white police force’s treatment of the predominantly black community led to longstanding frustrations and racial tensions. The use of police to collect revenue through traffic fines and court fees added to that distrust, according to some residents and legal advocates.
“This landmark legislation will return our municipal courts to their intended purpose: serving our citizens and protecting the public,” said Nixon, who was flanked by lawmakers and black residents. “That means, under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops – investigating crimes, protecting the public and keeping dangerous criminals off the streets.”

DOJ: Cops Antagonized Ferguson Crowds
June 30, 2015

(AP) – Police antagonized crowds gathered to protest in Ferguson, violated free-speech rights and made it difficult to hold officers accountable, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report summary obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The summary cited “vague and arbitrary” orders to keep protesters moving that violated their rights of assembly and free speech. It is part of a longer “after-action” report to be delivered this week to top police officials in Ferguson, St. Louis city and county and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

The summary suggests that unrest that followed the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown was aggravated by the community’s hostility toward Ferguson police and worsened when authorities didn’t quickly divulge details of his death, the newspaper reported Tuesday.

“Had law enforcement released information on the officer-involved shooting in a timely manner and continued the information flow as it became available, community distrust and media skepticism would most likely have been lessened,” according to the document.

Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot Aug. 9 by officer Darren Wilson, who is white. A grand jury and the Justice Department both declined to prosecute Wilson, who later resigned, but another Justice Department report released in March was critical of Ferguson police and the city’s profit-driven municipal court system.

Driving While Black Stops At Record High in Missouri
June 1, 2015

(AP) – The disparity in the rate at which Missouri authorities pulled over black drivers compared with whites last year surged to its highest level since the state began compiling data 15 years ago, the state’s top law enforcer said Monday.

Attorney General Chris Koster’s annual report analyzing traffic stops by race found that African-American drivers were 75 percent more likely than white motorists to be stopped on Missouri’s roads based on their proportionate share of the driving-age population. That’s nine percentage points higher than last year. In 2000, blacks were 31 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over.

The report is Missouri’s first since the racial unrest that followed the shooting death last August in Ferguson of Michael Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old, by a white police officer. Koster’s report shows that black drivers in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb were stopped last year at a disparity rate lower than the statewide average.

Koster cautioned that with 622 law enforcement agencies, there is no single explanation as to why the disparities exist and that the statistics don’t prove law officers are making vehicle stops based on the driver’s race. But Koster said in a statement that his office’s analysis of nearly 1.7 million 2014 traffic stops “provides law enforcement, legislators and the public a starting point as they consider improvements to process and changes to policy to address these issues.”

Ferguson election Changes City Hall
April 8, 2015

(AP) – Two black candidates are among three people elected to the Ferguson City Council, substantially increasing African-American representation in the St. Louis suburb at the center of a national debate about how police interact with minority residents.

Unofficial results on Tuesday showed that Wesley Bell, a black man, won in the 3rd Ward and Ella Jones, a black woman, won in the 1st Ward. Brian Fletcher, a former mayor who is white, won a 2nd Ward race against another white candidate.

Until Tuesday, the mayor and five of six City Council members were white. Mayor James Knowles III and three council members, including Dwayne James, who is black, were not up for election this year.