Last scheduled Ferguson Commission meeting raises important questions for the public.
by Chuck Ramsay
The Ferguson Commission, on September 9, 2015, held its final scheduled meeting before releasing its report. This group, who has labored since last December to formulate how to “guide the community in charting a new path toward healing and positive change for the residents of the St. Louis Region,” away from openly and covert racism among police departments, local courts and local governments.
At this final meeting, held at the Ferguson Community Center, a group from Cincinnati, Ohio, who in 2001 accomplished a similar challenge for their city, shared with the Commission and those members of the public attending the meeting what they did and how they did it. Their group included two police officers, a Captain Maris Herold, and Office Kathy Harrell, who is president of the Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union. Having these two at the table, they said, made a big difference in how their group approached the problem and came up with solutions. Absent from the Ferguson commission, while Dr. Dan Isom (former St. Louis Chief of Police) and Sgt. Kevin Ahlbrand with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and Deputy Commander of the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis, is anyone representing the police union. This may prove to be a crucial obstacle as that group has consistently shown disdain for any process of change that would affect how they police.
The group from Cincinnati included attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein, Iris Roley, Police Officer and FOP President Kathy Harrell, Capt. Maris Herold, Rev. Damon Lynch, III, and Robert Killins. Other differences from their situation, 14 years ago, was that they were dealing with the City of Cincinnati, whereas the Ferguson Commission is trying to impact the many small municipalities, police forces, and municipal courts throughout the St. Louis region – including the St. Louis County and St. Louis City entities. Another difference is that in Cincinnati, their Collaborative was able to negotiate with the City, police union and others and walk away with a Court Order that would help achieve compliance and cooperation. They also built in a mechanism to monitor their plan on an ongoing basis that would assure that, going forward, any action to slide back into the old patterns would be spotted and could be corrected.
A major fear among those watching the Ferguson Commission is that, like several blue ribbon panels appointed to make societal and police enforcement changes in the past, their recommendations and report – no matter how good it is – might end up on a shelf gathering dust (essentially ignored).
Many of the problems that have contributed to the unrest that culminated with the shooting death of unarmed Michael Brown have existed for decades and longer. That is why they are referred to as systemic – the systems, the public policies, and many of the laws and procedures for enforcing them – were created and enforced by the local governments, who were being lead in large part by white men in power over largely black and minority populations, and those populations have not had a say in their own governance to a large part. The “system” was against them from the beginning.
When Governor Nixon appointed the Commission on November 18, 2014, his charge was to “address the underlying root causes that led to the unrest in the wake of Michael Brown’s death and to publish an unflinching report with transformative policy recommendations for making the region stronger and a better place for everyone to live and to guide the community in charting a new path toward healing and positive change for the residents of the St. Louis region.”
The Commission’s report is expected to be released as soon as Monday, September 16, though a digital version may be available as early as September 14 at http://stlpositivechange.org/commission-work/current-work.
Then what happens?
According to Bethany Johnson-Javois, Managing Director of the Ferguson Commission, “It’s going to take individuals, and communities, and systems working together collectively to do this. And that’s a paradigm shift.” The report, she says, will be only a milestone on the path toward positive change for the region. Dedicated community members who have been involved in this work prior to the Commission, will continue their work along side others once the report is issued, and will be the key to delivering sustainable positive change.
After the report is issued, through the end of 2015, “the Commission will focus on working with the community to identify necessary investment, infrastructure, and 2016 legislative actions to support signature priorities,” according the their website. “The Commission will help the community to opt into ownership of these efforts where organizational alignment occurs, and continue to bring new people to the regional table. On January 1, our community moves into the Implementation phase. Ownership moves from the Commission to the community of leaders and stakeholders, acting on the designs identified during transition, and creating an iterative model where problems continue to be addressed.”
A call to action…
While much of that sounds passive, the recommendations of the Commission can become a reality through active efforts by all citizens. Each of us has two powerful abilities to help improve our society and avoid the problems of the past. The first is our FREE SPEECH. We need to speak up and not be drowned out by the old rhetoric of the status quo. By calling out racism, prejudice, bigotry and unlawful barriers to minorities, each of us can grease the wheels to progress and implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.
We also can remove any impediments through the ballot box. No longer should there be ANY EXCUSE NOT TO VOTE on ELECTION DAY. If you are not registered, do so. It’s easy. Go HERE to see how. If you are registered, then VOTE. If the Missouri Legislature will not move on improving how our “systems” work against so many of our citizens, then we need to elect new legislators who will. That’s democracy in action. And we have the power to do that.
Let’s not let the Ferguson Commission’s hard work to be moved to a dusty shelf. Let’s read it, study it, and get involved in its implementation!
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