We agree with the good sense St. Louis Alderman Antonio French spoke this morning live on CNN. The eruption of outrage at the police shooting of Michael Brown on Saturday in Ferguson has both immediate and long-term causes.
Immediately, the community was outraged at a police shooting of an unarmed black teen, particularly when eyewitness reports differ dramatically from what the police reported. We believe there is very good reason to doubt the Ferguson Police’s version of events and call immediately for the release of the police report on the shooting of this young man.
Also immediately, the community was outraged at the weak official response to the shooting. As French said, the city’s press conference showed a “business as usual” response that did not take into account the eyewitness reports and the anger in the community. We encourage the U.S. Department of Justice to take a thorough look at this incident and are pleased they are involved.
Our reporter Bridjes O’Neil reports from the streets the immediately relevant fact that the riot last night was partly incited by outsiders. We believe the public attention being turned away from the police shooting an unarmed teen toward an angry community boiling over was in part manipulated by people who do not have the best interests of our community at heart.
More long-term, as French said, there is deep distrust and disconnection between majority-black communities and the majority-white police departments that patrol them. The lack of diversity in area police departments strains the police’s ability to adequately and fairly patrol our communities. We must push, now and always, for police departments to patrol the streets with more officers who better understand the community.
In North St. Louis County, it also must be said, decades of disinvestment have left many youth with a feeling of hopelessness and an absence of opportunities. The ugly image of teens looting local stores is an all-too-familiar image that results when high-tension crisis meets grinding poverty.
We also join French in urging the community to channel its anger more productively than what transpired on the streets last night. However many frustrated teens and ill-willed opportunists may have turned to senseless violence last night, we know that the majority of our community wants justice, not more violence.
While we believe agitators are partly responsible for making a matter of justice into a racially charged crisis, our community remains deeply convinced that Michael Brown is dead today because he was African American.
And we will not be at peace until young black men are as safe on our streets – and at the hands of the police – as other young men.