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For the sake of Michael Brown

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Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2014 8:00 am

With deep humility, we admit we did not see this coming, and not where it came – in a ring suburb, rather than in the city – though we can see where it came from.

North St. Louis County and many of its municipalities have suffered decades of economic disinvestment, loss of manufacturing jobs and disruption by highway construction and airport expansion. Those who chose to stay in these ring suburbs, or who had no other options, had to live – or die – with the consequences.

White flight, particularly to St. Charles County, first hit the school districts, then the tax base. Remaining homeowners are heavily taxed in areas with often struggling schools, little industry and dwindling businesses and services. The mortgage bubble really burst in these areas, with rampant home foreclosures. Large retail areas in North County have been abandoned. Small businesses face difficulty establishing a presence due to high prices for retail space and insurance costs. Those who stay charge more, and those who buy from them pay more.

When businesses and retail move, those who remain have to spend their money with establishments elsewhere in the region. That builds up the tax base in other areas, not their own. For those who lack reliable transportation (let alone job skills and education), there are few opportunities to eke out a livelihood locally. There is little escape.

Disillusionment, resentment and tension set in where economic opportunities, recreation and thriving businesses once flourished. The “look at us, we are on our way back” slogans boasted by chambers of commerce say nothing about those who have been treated as invisible or dispensable.

As for our youth, many of them may not be properly educated, but they are not stupid, and it is not difficult for them to hear what they are being told in the cold language of unaccredited districts and transfer students. Michael Brown graduated in the much-discussed Normandy School District, an unaccredited school district that expired not long before he was killed. He and his peers – specifically, those strivers willing to transfer to a better school district – were told they were not wanted by many other districts in the region, once those districts were no longer required to accept them.

It may take a village to raise a child, but many administrators and parents in better-resourced parts of our region had no problem saying quite publicly that Michael Brown and his brothers and sisters did not belong in their village.

So it is not difficult to understand the frustration and anger of the sons and daughters of these disinvested ring suburbs. It is even easier to understand why, when their frustration and anger turned to rage at the murder of one of their own by a cop, it was directed at the police.

Most obviously, a police officer killed Michael Brown – in cold blood, according to eyewitnesses. But our sons’ and daughters’ rage at the police started long before Michael Brown and his friend were told to get out of the street on Saturday afternoon by a foul-mouthed Ferguson cop.

In many North County municipalities, it seems police run contests to see how many young black men you can pull over, flaunting the officers’ power and the motorists’ powerlessness.  Our young men especially are regularly inconvenienced and humiliated while simply trying to get where they are going. The Missouri Attorney General annually releases a report, which no black person needs to read, that documents appalling disparities in how often black drivers are pulled over and searched, compared to white people, all over the state and the region.

But Michael Brown was not pulled over while driving. He was told to get out of the street while walking. For offering what was initially, according to an eyewitness, the mildest of resistance to a rude and unnecessary police order, this unarmed teen was shot in the middle of the day, and his bullet-riddled body left by police to lay in the street for hours, as if to provide a grisly example.

That did it. That’s what drove people (not just young people) to act out their pent-up rage. That’s what drove people to demonstrate (which is within their rights). That’s what drove people to the candlelight vigil on Sunday. And that’s what drove a few who disregarded the greater good to lash out at what was in front of them. The resulting chaos created an opportunity for looters – many of them, according to reported arrests, not from the immediate area – to smash and grab from what businesses remain.

We can’t bring Michael Brown back. But we can insist on a prompt, credible, transparent investigation – under the leadership of the U.S. Department of Justice, we urge – and that his killer be brought to justice. The officer should receive the constitutionally guaranteed due process he did not give to his victim. When his name is finally disclosed – as should have been done immediately – there must be no effort to bring him to the vigilante justice we see too often delivered from behind the authority of a badge.

We also must insist – as a life-or-death matter essential to the peace and functioning of our society – on an immediate and thorough review of police policy, procedure and training throughout the region. There are successful models of police/community cooperation that can be adopted. We must diversify our police departments – the Ferguson Police Department reportedly has three black cops in a staff of 53. We must train police officers who patrol minority neighborhoods in how to better understand the people on their beats and interact with them in a spirit of mutual respect. And we must stop protecting police officers when they use unwarranted force, against black men or anyone.

In the meantime, our angry youth and many supportive citizens remain on the streets, taunting police in riot gear with snipers sprawled on what amount to tanks, training high-powered rifles on unarmed black people with their hands in the air, chanting, “Don’t shoot!” among other things we won’t print.

We commend St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal and community activist and writer Tef Poe, in particular, for showing leadership on the streets in these tense days. It is clear, now more than ever, that many more of us need to leave our offices, churches and comfort zones and engage more directly with our angry and misdirected youth.

“We as leaders can help redirect their justified anger,” French tweeted in the heat of the battle. “But we can’t do it from churches or our living rooms. We have to be with them.”

It should also be painfully clear, now more than ever, that this is not a black problem, but a problem for our entire region and others like it across the nation. True, if our community were more organized and voted its strength, then municipalities like Ferguson would not have the utterly inadequate mayors and police chiefs that are making life-or-death decisions today – and making them very badly, with fatal consequences.

But these consequences have regional impact. In countless editorials, we have urged our corporate and political leaders to do more to include African Americans in educational, economic and social opportunities for the greater good of the region. Over and over, we have exhorted, our region cannot thrive when we consign so many of our youth to the oblivion of failing schools and poor job skills. Now, more than ever, it is clear that our region needs to do more to include African Americans from the earliest ages for the region not only to thrive, but simply to function peaceably.

We believe it is because not nearly enough capable people with resources in this region have heeded our plea that we have reached this crisis point of complete breakdown, when the St. Louis region has entered the world’s spotlight, not as one of its great places to live and work, but as one of its war zones. We need peace. But first, we need justice and equity, so that Michael Brown’s death is not wasted, like so many young black lives before his, and with them the future prospects of this region and nation.

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • mcduran posted at 1:53 pm on Tue, Aug 19, 2014.

    mcduran Posts: 1

    I was born in, and lived in St. Louis in the 50's and 60's, now transplanted to the East Coast. I remain connected through strong family and personal bonds to this city of my childhood. I feel called to do something at this time. St. Louis has always been stark with its lessons about life. I saw my father silently stare at the 'rubble' from the Mill Creek Area Development Project. All of our homes, schools, churches, synagogues, small shops and businesses, entire life communities were bulldozed for corporate sprawl. I did not see protests, just bewilderment and loss as we 'relocated' farther north in St. Louis, lives forever changed. But in this difficult situation, voices are being raised, answers are being sought. I hope St. Louis looks hard at itself this time. The past may not have to be repeated over and over.

  • kessler posted at 2:07 pm on Mon, Aug 18, 2014.

    kessler Posts: 1

    Here's what I'm telling friends now -

    About the St. Louis American :

    This is the best / least-clueless news source on Ferguson Missouri events among the several which I've been following -- their editor Chris King has made the most thoughtful interview comments amid all the blather about this flooding Big Media now.

    And about Chris King's reporting, and Ferguson events in-general:

    Here's a sample, of fine writing under-pressure -- amid all the other clueless blather so far, like I said... Ferguson Missouri is a national tragedy, long-foreseen or at least foreseeable: is there anyone in the US who can say they don't remember Occupy, or The 99% -- or that they don't know about our Gini coefficient of income disparity, which our President and Elizabeth Warren and some leading economists all have been warning us about -- or are unaware that our War Against Some Drugs & 3-Strikes-Laws & other mandatory-sentencing have brought us incarceration statistics among the worst & most racially-biased in the world -- or don't remember that we removed our social "safety net" -- rebuilding the nation's ghettos, we've been, over the past 25 Neocon years, it's just that they're now in somebody else's backyard.


  • mjohnh posted at 11:23 am on Sun, Aug 17, 2014.

    mjohnh Posts: 1

    I am a white grandfather of an african-american male by adoption. I am a retired attorney who does not presently live in the St. Louis community, but does have strong St. Louis connections. I do not expect to influence anyone by this post, but I feel compelled to post it regardless as I believe that my reaction to the Ferguson tragedy is representative of many...if not most....white Americans who observe this as it unfolds. I have represented, over the last 35 years, several persons who were the subject of excessive force by police officers; one shot while running away; two whose shoulders were ripped while being cuffed; one of them battered about the head. I have also represented police departments from time to time. My reaction based on the facts as we know/believe them to be is follows; 1. We don't know all of the facts, but we know that a police office is only justified in using lethal force if he has a reasonable belief that his life or the life of a third person is endangered. While I do not rely on news media accounts of anything as they are so often wrong or incomplete, it is hard to see how the firing of the gun was necessary. I am so saddened by this event. 2. I hope that the community acts in its own best interest and allows the investigation and the criminal and civil justice system do its work. I hate to see other folks injured or arrested when no good will come of it. The attention of the nation is on Ferguson. 3. Over time, there is no reason that the local government should not reflect its ethnic composition. Get involved politically and get elected.!!!!! 4. Captain Ron Johnson is THE example of an excellent police
    executive and I believe that the entire nation owes him a debt of gratitude. 5. No one.....can know the tremendous loss experienced by the Brown family and the tragedy imposed on Ferguson ,Mo, but those directly involved and I am deeply sorry for what has occurred as an American. 6. Let justice do its work. No one would want a hasty and poorly done investigation to create a defense to legal action that might follow.

  • Silence Dogood posted at 4:48 pm on Sat, Aug 16, 2014.

    Silence Dogood Posts: 1

    I don't think a transparent investigation of police procedure is sufficient at this point for the people of Ferguson. The people have no ownership, nor control, of the community in which they live. The Governor has promised to listen to the voices of the community, but that isn't enough either. Ferguson, like so many towns, is fundamentally broken. To fix it, two things need to happen right away.

    First, the Governor should immediately dissolve the Ferguson Police Department, and replace it temporarily with a force populated by State Troopers. The trust between the police and the people is irrevocably shattered, and there is simply no way the people of Ferguson will ever have an iota of trust in the current police force. Detail Ron Johnson to run the department for three years while a new force can be built on a foundation of community-based policing. The Governor can do this.

    Second, and perhaps more difficult, the Governor should call a special election for the City Council and Mayor of Ferguson. Right now, while everyone is paying attention, allow the people of Ferguson to choose new leaders that better reflect the citizenry, and can be held to account by them for all the things in Ferguson that desperately need changing. This will give the people a much-needed sense of ownership of their community, and control of their town's destiny.

    Finally, every town in America should conduct a thorough review of policing practices and approaches to dealing with the people they are charged with protecting. The militarization of police, and the distrustful and adversarial relationships that engenders should be reviewed, and where appropriate, reduced. In Ferguson right now, as in a lot of towns, the greatest perceived threat to the people isn't criminals, it is the police. That is sad, but very true. And a society that feels like the police are a threat isn't free, isn't safe, and isn't civil.

    I'm starting to wonder how many towns are going to be Trayvoned before we sort these issues out.

  • In My Opinion posted at 11:16 am on Sat, Aug 16, 2014.

    In My Opinion Posts: 4

    Black Responsibility is standing up to red neck police officers in every inch of land in the United States.

    This is the last African American that will die at the hands of the police without a response of the same force used by the police.

  • K Johnson posted at 3:40 am on Sat, Aug 16, 2014.

    K Johnson Posts: 1

    I hope this RALLY continues to protest strong arm robberies, drug dealing, Drive By Shooting and most importantly the Snitches get you Stitches!!!
    This article talks so much about how other forces disenfranchise the community.. Not once did it mention the Black Responsibility to ensure safety and prosperity of the businesses and citizens!!
    Let's rally for those who business owners who continue to risk their lives to welcome their customers by refusing to put up bulletproof glass to sell good and services, let's rally for those who are addicted or overdosed on drugs, let's rally for the dead and/or paralyzed from gun violence and let's rally to get more witnesses to show up at the court to testify what they saw, heard or recorded witnessing Black on Black crime.
    Oh let's have a HUGE RALLY to support the home owners that live near and around Ferguson, Mo who stayed during the financial crisis.
    And now due to the looting and burning down our local businesses the property value have now DECREASED again!!

  • Wesley Mcgranor posted at 11:42 pm on Fri, Aug 15, 2014.

    Wesley Mcgranor Posts: 43

    Sure the police at times are psychopathic. How many times do the police site that they felt threatened when beating or shooting to death? Aside from that there is high degree of delinquency in the Black community ( a racialist travesty in itself) and its criminal mindedness expressed in its rap fashion.

  • Boom posted at 5:05 pm on Fri, Aug 15, 2014.

    Boom Posts: 2

    I am so bummed out. I made the mistake of searching U Tube for "Police Brutality".
    Three hours later, I am sick. Heartsick for America's minorities. I saw video after video where the force used was not necessary. Even ones that went to trial that were found not guilty. I saw people simply murdered. Mostly people of color. Anyone that thinks America does not have a serious problem with their police forces needs to go look on U Tube. Videos from all over the country. Large and small communities.

    What is a few hundred videos of bad apples caught on video compared to the thousands of law enforcement officers in the country that quietly protect and serve 24-7? . In light of viewing the videos, the police response in Ferguson, the online comments about 'those people" I really tried to give the police the benefit of the doubt. But instead my gut was telling me those few bad apples are the tip of the iceberg. I had to look back to my own experiences. I have had three encounters with the St. Charles Police Department in the last 25 years. 2 negatives-false police report, Minority stop and check and one officer professionally doing his duty. Lends credibility to the iceberg theory. A sad story about America that until now white America didn't pay attention to. I didn't. Not on my radar. Hopefully, some good will arise, nationwide, from this tragedy.

    I was also surprised about the press coverage of the militarization of our police forces. I scroll past TV shows with police in 'tactical gear'. all the time. Desensitized to seeing real police in tactical gear on the news I guess. Just headlines from somewhere else. The whole issue just snuck up on me. Happy in my own little suburban world. Not part of my world. Well, recent events was a wake up call! It is part of my world and everyone else's.

    Will all this media coverage move on to new headlines? Probably. Back to the status quo with police departments and minority communities, I hope not.

    I for one, would like to apologize for how America treats minorities. We need to make serious changes.

    Totally surprised that it was the St. Charles' armored vehicle and snipers pointing he weapon at the crowd. I will be having a chat with our elected officials about that... Face to face.

  • whereskate posted at 2:15 pm on Thu, Aug 14, 2014.

    whereskate Posts: 1

    I would like to start this by stating that I am sickened and saddened by the death of Michael Brown and am praying for his family and loved ones. I hope that justice does prevail in this horrible situation.

    I grew up in Ferguson, my family and so many friends still live there We have frequented the McDonald's, Wal-Greens and QT's that are being referred to over and over again by the media. My oldest brother was a lifeguard at the Canfield Greens apartment complex when we were younger. I am very familiar with St. Louis as a whole. But, I am a white woman and therefor cannot say that I have experienced in any way what life is like in St. Louis (or anywhere for that matter) as a person of color...

    What I can address is some of the other issues that you all spoke of in your article. I was growing up in Ferguson when "the white flight" to the west was in full swing. I watched so many of my friends leave and move away to other areas. I watched people see their community start to loose ground and businesses start to leave the area and schools have to start putting police officers on duty at all times as a "preventative measure"...but I also watched other families stay.

    I watched Families invest sweat and tears and time and money back into their community. I saw families of all ethnicities join together in kids sporting events at Forestwood Park. I watched all kinds of people gather together for city organized fishing tournaments or for family reunions at January-Wabash. I witnessed city celebrations with parades and carnival like atmospheres that draw thousands of participants continue to be successful. I saw small businesses once again start to flourish. Run by different races and nationalities (black, white, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Persian just to name a few) and all of them lived and worked happily together in this community. They worked hard to do good things and to make it a place worth living in, not a place to run away from. They were not paying attention to the color of each others skin but rather their similar desires to give their families a good future and to rebuild the community that they lived in, worked in and loved. They supported each other and frequented each other's establishments, they donated both financially and with their time to local schools and churches and youth and community programs. THEY WERE INVOLVED.

    I would love to see the papers post the statistics of the people that volunteer in Ferguson or donate to charities in the community or give of their time and money when possible to help a neighbor in need. The statistics of those that shop and eat locally in order to sustain the businesses where they live. The statistics on the people that spend extra every week to donate to a food pantry even when money is tight for them as well. Or to spend their time on their hands and knees weeding flower beds in the parks or along the city streets so they look nice for other residents or those just passing through (because not all contributions need to be financially based). Or the people that help set up events in the parks for all families that want to come to enjoy. Or the people that join civic organizations that fund raise not for their own benefit but to give to others in need. Because those are the people we should be focusing on when we're talking about a community.

    I believe it has been posted that over 60% of the population of Ferguson is African-American...people have said that the police force and city officials should more efficiently reflect those percentages and then there wouldn't be so many problems. Maybe that would help, maybe that's part of the answer but the police department does not make up the community... the people make up the community. All of these things that I mentioned above are still possible...good can still happen here...I refuse to believe that this is a problem that can't be fixed. What I think that we all need to do is look at ourselves...not as black or white or as victims or those in power or those born into poverty or those that are considered to be privileged but as members of a community. How are we trying to involve ourselves in our community to make it better? What are we doing to positively change our neighborhoods so we can live peacefully, safely and happily together?

    I think that if we all did this, as opposed to just a few, we would realize that a large part of the problem (at least in Ferguson) is that it's much easier it to complain about something than to work hard to try and fix it.

  • harrisonbender posted at 1:56 pm on Thu, Aug 14, 2014.

    harrisonbender Posts: 1

    To the protesters, I lived in Southern Africa in the early 1980's. The people protest was mostly in song. Remember the little kid that was taken a few months ago? He sanged to his kidnapper, until he was let go. Sing the song from the sixties(Iko, Iko) change the beginning, but be heavy on the chorus. I bet you it will get the point across to the military police. Sing until the police can not get it out of their head. People that are unfair to blacks, do not like African beats or drums. It makes them weak. Sing and watch them passout with all that heavy gear on. The Haitians won their revolution from France with the talking drums, let us use the same method, because it do work.