“One of the worst things they could have done is naming it `The Ferguson Commission,'” [Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, III] said. “That’s not what it’s about. When you do that, it makes it real easy for other communities not feeling the pressure to ask, `Why do we need to change? There wasn’t a riot in our section of the region.'” (via Associated Press)
When it comes down to it, Ferguson’s mayor said what a lot of people in St. Louis County think. The Ferguson Commission was put together in the aftermath of a riot that no one wanted, was not warranted, and is being used, really, to advocate for county-wide change that’s been voted down more than once in these parts. See, what the core of the report recommended had less to do with ratcheting down race relations in north county that are flamed by street-level rhetoric and some bad apples in the police departments, and more to do with ramrodding through the consolidation of a number of municipalities starting with eliminating township courts and municipal in the county.
The report notes St. Louis County has 81 municipal courts and 60 municipal police departments – and recommends consolidating at least 18 of those departments into just three that would oversee different areas of north St. Louis County.
The fragmentation “is not only costly and a grossly inefficient use of taxpayer resources, but more importantly presents as an impediment to justice for many of our region’s citizens,” the report says.
Yeah, that would be nice…. Being a resident of one of the largest of the municipalities in the county, the logic of this makes perfect sense (we’d get to keep ours most likely), but it would begin to erase the identities of all the little communities we call home particularly in north county (which might well be the point). For the majority of the people in the county, it’s a non-starter even if the people at the top of the food chain have been trying to do this for some time. Back in the 90’s, similar proposals were voted down, and the idea hasn’t really been broached since in any serious way (even if it really does need to be discussed and done). And now the report is putting the ball in the court of the state legislature. (Why…well, the governor is a Democrat and the Republicans have HUGE majorities in both houses, and NOTHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN.)
Which is somewhat what made the Commission’s quick formation and the choice of Rich McClure, former head of Unigroup (United Van Lines), to lead it rather curious. McClure, good guy that he is (he’s a lot more interested in doing the right thing than he gets credit for), is still a member of the power establishment in St. Louis. He has served as head of the local civic group that’s a behind the scenes power broker, and as chair of the Regional Chamber of Commerce. Those people have been wanting to direct the growth of the region for decades. (Full disclosure: this writer used to work for them and saw this in action.) Was the Ferguson Commission a way to express their perspective? Given the results, one has to wonder.
The report says the panel heard from many black residents “who do not feel heard or respected when they interact with the police or the courts, and who do not feel that they are treated in an unbiased way.”
Relations with police were strained in parts of the St. Louis region before the shooting, partly because of excessive force, the report says.
“The regular use of force has led many citizens to view the police as an occupying force in their neighborhoods, damaging community trust, and making community safety even more difficult,” the report says.
It suggests new use-of-force policies, officer training and a change in department culture. It also recommends establishment of a statewide database of use-of-force incidents and statistics.
Some of that has already started, but it has to be a two way street, and given the history of race in these parts, that’s where the rubber meets the road. Is there recognition of Kinloch, The Ville, Meacham Park, or any of the other neighborhoods in the region that have been black for at least a hundred years, and largely were where domestic help lived? That has always been separate. The old municipalities all have those neighborhoods. Is there any call for the citizenry to be more calm and respectful and not post every little thing that happens on social media?
Oh, no. Just consolidate the county starting with the police and courts, get the police to behave according to the will of the governor (and Obama’s Justice Department), and not racially profile. Oh, yeah, that’s going to work. There is no mention of peacefully reconciling the past, or teaching the true regional history of segregation. That would go a long way to healing a lot of the open wounds.
At the same time, the police have a job to do, and so long as the criminals are what they are, profiling is going to happen. As for the state stepping into matters in St. Louis…that’s never a good thing. Governor Jay Nixon may say we are all Missourians, but he’s from DeSoto, which is south of here. He’s not from the city and the people in the rural parts of the state already resent those of us who live in the two big regions. All reports like this do is breed that resentment, if they are even heeded.
Now that the Ferguson report is out, those of us with long memories are seeing it for what it is: an attempt by people who like to think they control things in these parts to actually dictate a makeover of the county. Organic change…that works just fine even if it’s not where the executives want it to happen. Forced change, not so much. And Nixon is looking to force change whether it works or not.
Some information for this piece found in StLToday.com.