Lezley McSpadden-Head

Lezley McSpadden-Head visits the grave of her son Michael Brown at St. Peter's Cemetery on the fifth anniversary of his death on August 9, 2019

One of the other grieving mothers who came to Ferguson to support Lezley McSpadden-Head on the fifth anniversary of the police killing of her son Michael Brown spoke our mind well. “It’s not a one-day event,” said Rhonda  Dormeus, whose daughter Korryn Gaines was killed by Baltimore County Police in August 2016. “This is not annual. This is every day for us.”

What has changed in the five years since Michael Brown’s lifeless body was left on the street by Ferguson and St. Louis County Police for four and a half hours? Given the unique mission of this newspaper – to inform, empower, and defend the black community in the St. Louis region – we don’t wait for major anniversaries to consider these matters. This newspaper was founded 91 years ago to empower and defend and this community, and we are not going anywhere. This is every week, every day, for us.

That said, we should point to some positive changes in which our community – and, in particular, Michael Brown’s family – should take pride. The public is more aware of the need for greater inclusion and equity and criminal justice reform. Both St. Louis and St. Louis County elected progressive black prosecutors on the strength of a community informed by the Ferguson unrest who voted to change the narrative of criminal justice in the St. Louis region. How deeply this change unsettled the status quo, including St. Louis police officers, may be judged by the relentless and coordinated attacks that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner has withstood. St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell had the advantage of watching Gardner and her enemies at work for more than a year before he was elected, and he has had a far smoother time putting progressive changes into place.

Bell now faces a turning point in Michael Brown’s father and supporters demanding that Bell reopen the investigation into Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s killing of the unarmed 18-year-old teen. President Obama’s Department of Justice placed a high priority on the physical evidence in its decision to not even send the case to a federal grand jury to consider an indictment. Given that this physical evidence was in police custody, we believe Bell should at least review that chain of custody with fresh and skeptical eyes. We don’t trust the eyes or intentions of his predecessor, Bob McCulloch.

In the City of Ferguson, the mayor who watched the August 2014 unrest from his couch, James Knowles III, somehow has remained in office, though a number of black City Council members have come – and, in some cases, like Bell, gone. Gone, too, is Delrish Moss, the police chief who worked hard on Ferguson’s Consent Decree with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and we remain disturbed that Moss was not replaced, as he suggested, by Frank McCall, the deputy chief who did the most work on the Consent Decree. The Post-Dispatch has published an op-ed by a white Ferguson gadfly declaring that the Ferguson Police Department should be allowed to monitor itself, which leaves a nauseous feeling of going back in time five years and undoing five painstaking years of progress.

Not only has the community done its work at the ballot box, in a number of critical elections, but we also have seen the DOJ deliver justice in the region, even under the Trump administration. The brilliant investigation and effective prosecution of St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger left the region with something we see far too little of – a stroke of genuine good luck. Stenger is headed to federal prison while his successor, Sam Page, has made only promising, progressive moves thus far in restoring public confidence in county government. The fact that Stenger’s downfall also sparked the implosion of Rex Sinquefield’s Better Together proposal designed to further empower and entrench Stenger was another stroke of good luck that borders on the miraculous.

In the City of St. Louis, voters – and, perhaps, the DOJ – have more hard work to do in delivering a real payoff from the reform energy spurred by the Ferguson unrest. While we have no reason to believe that Mayor Lyda Krewson deserves to join Stenger in prison, she is the last holdover in power from the sinister, undemocratic Better Together proposal. Krewson had agreed to dissolve city government and yield it to Sinquefield and Stenger. We hope city voters remember how quickly she was ready to get rid of this city’s autonomy – and, in the meantime, raffle off its valuable airport – should Krewson come before the voters again. Certainly, a more progressive, transparent and engaged mayor in the City of St. Louis is a major final piece that must be put in place if this region is to stabilize, become more equitable and grow.

The St. Louis region simply will never realize its social and economic potential if it does not improve the outcomes of its young, black people – especially its young, black men, like Michael Brown. That is why it is quite fittingly in Mike Brown’s memory that we now rededicate ourselves to informing, empowering, and defending the black community in the St. Louis region for the betterment of the entire region.

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