(Politico) – Civil rights leaders and community activists cheered when Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced on Thursday that the Justice Department would be investigating the Ferguson Police Department for possible civil rights violations—a move prompted by the August 9 shooting death of an African-American teen at the hands of one of the St. Louis suburb’s white police officers.
The reaction is understandable. The Justice Department’s civil rights division—which is investigating whether Ferguson’s police force engaged in a pattern and practice of abuses—has for decades been instrumental in pursuing justice in matters and places where local action would have been unlikely. Think voting rights and desegregation in the Deep South of the 1960s.
Under President George W. Bush, the division was plagued by scandal, largely due to leadership that was intent on keeping “commies” and “crazy libs” off the staff, as a 2009 inspector general report documented.
“[I]t will take some time for them to fully heal,” Holder told the New York Times early in his tenure, vowing that the division will be “getting back to doing what it has traditionally done.”