Published in the St. Louis American, October 1, 2015
The long-awaited report by the Ferguson Commission is appropriately titled “Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity.” Before I could be overwhelmed by the 189 recommendations embedded in the nearly 200 pages, I was underwhelmed by the region’s so-called leaders. Where were the declarations of commitment, of pledged resources, by those entrusted with the power to do so?
“I commit to you today that these efforts will not be in vain.” These were the words of Gov. Jay Nixon at the public release. That sounds nice, but the governor would’ve have been more convincing had he punctuated that remark with very specific actions his own office would be taking to implement parts of the report.
The impact of the release would be still reverberating had the governor, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, a federal legislator or two, a few state legislators, a prosecutor, judge, rep from Civic Progress and, of course, a few police chiefs stood on the stage and proclaimed what they will do next.
Nixon was basically asked this very question, and he skirted by saying he hadn’t read the full report yet. That’s all you got? Stenger, who saw Ferguson blow up right under his nose, didn’t bother to attend the public release. Slay made an appearance, then ducked out before he could be asked any hard questions.
The report contains some serious policy changes that could make a difference in the lives of black and working people. The lack of visible, tangible commitment of time, resources and, most critical, political influence to make it happen is a clear sign that we’re going to have an uphill battle to get accountability and cooperation.
It would be so much more productive if all of the citizen efforts could go towards implementing the recommendations and not fighting with those who choose to uphold the rotting status quo. The report was crystal clear that the structural inequities of the region are rooted in racism. We don’t have the luxury of wasting time and energy on pushing and pulling on resistant and uncooperative power brokers who stand in the way of progress.
The people I personally know on the Ferguson Commission – Rev. Starsky Wilson, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rasheen Aldridge, Becky James-Hatter, Brittany Packnett, Felicia Pulliam and Dan Isom – poured their hearts and souls into the commission work. They’re the main reason I’m mustering up some optimism for the long road ahead to turn the recommendations into reality.
I am not dousing cold water on the report, nor will I give anyone an out, regardless of their status. I am making an observation about how challenging this will be from the jump if you don’t have major players clear about their roles and responsibilities. This is a project that will take tens of thousands of citizens in motion together if we are to collectively forge a path to racial equity.