The Justice Department is accusing the Ferguson Police Department of “exacerbating an already tense atmosphere” by allowing officers to wear a bracelet in support of fellow Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in August.
The shooting set off weeks of demonstrations and riots in the Missouri town, and tensions are building yet again as federal officials ponder possible civil rights charges against the police department.
The Justice Department sent a letter Friday to Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson after residents complained to federal investigators that officers were wearing bracelets that say, “I am Darren Wilson,” in a show of support for their fellow officer, The New York Times reported.
The letter was sent even though Jackson had already agreed to ban officers from wearing the bracelets.
The bracelets “upset and agitated people,” Christy E. Lopez, deputy chief of the special litigation section of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, wrote in the sternly-worded letter.
“There is no question that police departments can and should closely regulate officers’ professional appearance and behavior, particularly where, as here, the expressive accessory itself is exacerbating an already tense atmosphere between law enforcement and residents in Ferguson,” Lopez said.
The bracelets, she said, “reinforce the very ‘us versus them’ mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists.”
Lopez said it didn’t help matters that some of the officers were covering their names.
“It further was reported to us that some officers affirmatively displaying these bracelets had black tape over their name plates,” she said, calling the action a violation of the department’s own policies.
The Justice Department is in Ferguson to investigate the police department for possible civil rights violations, but it only learned of the bracelets when residents provided pictures of officers wearing them, The Times reported.
Still, the agency acknowledged the evidence was inconclusive.
“To be clear, the pictures do not indicate which law enforcement agencies the officers wearing these bracelets were from, and we have no other evidence confirming that Ferguson police officers were wearing these bracelets,” Lopez wrote.
Despite the lack of solid evidence, the Justice Department decided to write the letter of admonishment — and publicly release it.
The letter mentioned that another letter had been sent earlier in the week and that Justice Department and Ferguson police officials had already met on the matter, adding that the police chief had agreed to prohibit the bracelets. But Lopez wrote that she was releasing the letter to the public “due to the strong interest in this issue.”
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