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Brown Family to Sue City of Ferguson, Officer

Attorney Daryl Parks, center, talks to reporters on behalf of Michael Brown's parents, Lesley McSpadden, left, and Michael Brown Sr., right, at a news conference in Dellwood, Mo., March 5, 2015.

The family of the unarmed black teenager slain last summer by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, plans to file a wrongful death civil lawsuit, their lawyers said Thursday.

Daryl Parks, lead attorney for the family of Michael Brown, said the suit naming the City of Ferguson and officer Darren Wilson would be filed "soon."

FILE - Darren Wilson, who resigned from the Ferguson Police Department, is pictured in an undated handout photo.
FILE - Darren Wilson, who resigned from the Ferguson Police Department, is pictured in an undated handout photo.

The announcement comes the day after the U.S. Justice Department reported it would not bring civil rights charges against Wilson. But the department also said a separate investigation had produced voluminous evidence of a police force operating with extreme racial bias and a municipal court system exploiting blacks as a revenue source for the city.

Parks expressed disappointment with the Justice Department’s decision not to pursue charges. But its civil rights report, "if nothing else … clearly lays out why this family had such distrust for law enforcement and this agency," he said at a news conference at a church in north St. Louis County.

Parks said that while the federal government had "accepted" Wilson’s contention that he feared for his life and fired his gun to protect himself, "we do not accept his self-defense" claim. The standard of proof for a federal civil rights violation is higher than that required in a civil case, he noted.

Parks was accompanied by Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., but they kept silent and did not take questions.

Protesters arrested

After Wednesday’s announcement by the Justice Department, several dozen protesters gathered outside police headquarters in Ferguson. At least two were arrested, though police did not give exact numbers or name the charges, the Reuters news agency reported.

Arthur Romano, an assistant professor of conflict resolution at George Mason University in Virginia, told VOA the ongoing protests in Ferguson are what kept the case under public scrutiny for months.

"People were on the streets in the rain, in the cold, with automatic weapons sometimes pointed at them, tear-gassed on a nightly basis…. People stood up for a very long time," said Romano, who traveled to Ferguson to witness demonstrations in October.

FILE - Police and Missouri National Guardsmen stand guard as protesters gather in front of the police department in Ferguson, Nov. 28, 2014.
FILE - Police and Missouri National Guardsmen stand guard as protesters gather in front of the police department in Ferguson, Nov. 28, 2014.

"And they're still on the street and still working to try to raise the profile on this issue, understanding that this is more than just accountability for a single individual... that this racialized criminal justice system is inequitable and unconscionable."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in announcing his department’s findings Wednesday, called for "immediate, wholesale and constructive action" in Ferguson.

The report called for emphasizing public safety, instead of measuring police effectiveness by the number of arrests and citations and the amount of revenue generated. The Justice Department said Ferguson’s Police Department "must fundamentally change the way it conducts stops and searches, issues citations and summonses, and makes arrests." That was among 13 broad measures for improvement, which included improving supervision of officers and increasing civilian input.

Ferguson’s municipal court also needed to be overhauled, the Justice Department said, saying it targeted African-Americans as a revenue source through fines and fees.

In a statement on Wednesday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon – who was criticized in August for his slow reaction to police violence against protesters – called the DOJ findings "deeply disturbing” and said the state legislature is considering reforms to municipal courts.

"Discrimination has no place in our justice system and no place in a democratic society," Nixon said.

Improving policing

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama’s new White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing released an interim report. It includes best practices to "promote effective crime reduction while building public trust," it says. They’re based on four principles: "treating people with dignity and respect, giving individuals ‘voice’ during encounters, being neutral and transparent in decision making, and conveying trustworthy motives."

The president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, representing the largest communities in the United States and Canada, said police departments shouldn’t require a mandate from the Justice Department to practice supportive community policing.

"There’s a lot of dialogue going on among chiefs … and we’re talking very candidly about these issues. You’re foolish if you don’t learn lessons from the difficulties that other people have had," said Thomas Manger, police chief for Montgomery County, Maryland, a Washington suburb.

Manger said Michael Brown’s death and the ensuing judicial decisions should continue to trigger introspection among his peers.

He believes "every police chief needs to really be able to take a critical look at their own departments and to really assess 'What's the level of trust? What’s the level of confidence?'"

Once a staunch believer in the grand jury system to investigate officer-involved shootings, Manger now questions whether better alternatives exist.

"We think the system is working, but what does the community think?" he said. "If the community has lost faith in the fact that police are held accountable, then we've got to address that."

Transparency and constructive action make a difference, Manger added.

"It won’t be as big a crisis if you’re at least forthcoming. Hit the issue head on. Talk about what you’re gonna do," he advised. Withholding comment "leads the public to believe that you’re not doing anything or that you’re not gonna do anything."

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