Per the Justice Department, the sheer disparate impact of Ferguson police actions is enough to prove racial bias. But actual prejudice also influenced police practices and behavior. The Justice Department records multiple instances in which officers used racial slurs—including “nigger”—against Black residents, and it finds evidence of racial bias among city officials, including a series of emails sent by Ferguson officials using city accounts.
But while racial bias informed the actions of the Ferguson Police Department, the chief driver was city coffers. In 2013, for example, fines and forfeitures accounted for 20 percent of Ferguson’s $12.7 million operating budget. Or as the Justice Department writes, “City officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for Ferguson’s law enforcement activity.”
Officers weren’t protecting citizens as much as they were corralling potential offenders and sources of revenue, with a huge assist from the city municipal court. “City and police leadership pressure officers to write citations, independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the City budget. … Court staff are keenly aware that the City considers revenue generation to be the municipal court’s primary purpose,” the Justice Department writes. Officials imposed huge fines for minor violations, including a total of $1,000 for one 67-year-old woman who failed to pay a trash-removal citation, leading to a warrant and a cascade of new fees.