Federal report on Ferguson resonates
Residents elsewhere say they face the same struggles with their police and city leaders.
SEATTLE - Felix Vargas read the Justice Department's report on Ferguson, Mo., and thought some of it sounded familiar: a mostly white police department overseeing a mostly minority town; questionable uses of force; officers ill-equipped to deal with mentally ill residents.
They're the same issues his heavily Hispanic community, the agricultural Washington city of Pasco, has confronted since the fatal police shooting of an immigrant farmworker last month.
"We know Pasco is only the most recent area where this has happened," said Vargas, chairman of a local Hispanic business organization called Consejo Latino.
Ferguson has become an emblem of the tensions between minorities and police departments nationwide since Darren Wilson, a white officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, last summer. The Justice Department cleared Wilson of criminal wrongdoing, but in its report last week, it made numerous allegations against the city's police department that included racial disparities in arrests, bigotry, and profit-driven law enforcement - essentially using the black community as a piggy bank to support the city's budget through fines.
Though the report centered on Ferguson, residents in some communities across the country say they feel they face the same struggles with their police departments and city leadership.
On Saturday, protesters took to the streets in Madison, Wis., chanting "Black Lives Matter" after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 19-year-old by a white police officer. Authorities said the police officer fired his weapon after he was assaulted. The officer was placed on administrative leave pending results of an investigation by an outside state agency.
"These communities are vulnerable because they don't believe the law is there to protect them," said Kevin Jones, 36, an Iraq war veteran who lives in Saginaw, Mich., which is about half black. Jones, who is black, recalled being pulled over and arrested in 2011 for having his music too loud. The noise complaint was dropped when an officer failed to show for his hearing, but Jones said he still had to pay to get his car back.
Saginaw's police force, which is three-quarters white, came under scrutiny after officers killed a homeless, mentally ill, black man in 2012 when he refused to drop a knife.
Community leaders in Anaheim, Calif., have also been seeking a federal review of their department. Demonstrators rioted over two officer-involved shootings in 2012, and residents said Hispanics seemed to be singled out by police in a city that is mostly Latino.
In Pasco, where Vargas lives, Mayor Matt Watkins said the city is open to a federal or state review and he'd be interested to see more data on arrest rates or other potential indicators of discriminatory policing.