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Justice Department to meet with 'diverse groups' on future of Ferguson

Members of the Justice Department’s civil rights team will meet with Ferguson residents Thursday night in the first of several such meetings following the release of the department’s investigative report finding patterns of racial bias in the city’s police department and municipal court.

In the coming weeks and months, Justice Department officials “will seek to meet with many diverse groups,” including city officials, police officers, business and faith leaders and others, according to a St. Louis Public Radio source.  “We conduct meetings like this in every city after findings are issued to help us craft an agreement that reflects the best ideas and values of the community.”  

The group One Ferguson is hosting Thursday night’s “town hall” meeting, which the Justice Department has closed to the media so that residents will feel comfortable asking questions and raising concerns.  Organizers have encouraged members of the public to read the two reports issued by the Justice Department. 

The first report deals with the shooting of Michael Brown by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and the second report details numerous findings of racially biased practices and unconstitutional conduct on the part of Ferguson police and municipal court officials.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told reporters Tuesday that the visits are important.

“I think it sends a signal that this is something that is not going away just because they’ve finished the investigation and the report.  This is an ongoing process,” McCaskill said.  “Hopefully it will encourage people in Ferguson and the surrounding communities to take all of these problems more seriously, the more that DOJ and the civil rights team and the head of the civil rights division come.”        

Earlier this month, Vanita Gupta, acting assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, issued a statement saying that the staff would meet with “community members and Ferguson city leadership” to discuss the report’s findings and the next steps to be taken as the department seeks to reach an enforceable agreement for change in Ferguson.

Gupta is not scheduled to be at Thursday night’s meeting, but another source says it is likely that she will visit the area in the coming months.

The meetings with Justice Department officials have two primary objectives.  The first is to answer questions from the public about the process now underway with the city. The second is to begin a dialogue with the public to learn their ideas about an appropriate remedy for the department’s findings.

Thursday night’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the multipurpose room of the Student Center  on the Florissant Valley campus of the St. Louis Community College.