I got a call Monday from the Political EYE to discuss the murder of Michael Brown. I know that's a harsh judgmental description of this tragic event without benefit of all the facts and any official findings, but as a product of the sixties I know you don't always need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

The basis of our conversation was what did I think about the situation from the perspective of someone who has spent 35 years in public life and who is retiring at the end of this year? More specifically, what would I say to the men and women protesting this tragedy?

A fundamental truth I have learned in these past 30 years is usually people fail because they focus on the wrong thing. We obsess about the tactical, who did it and when did it happen, and we completely ignore the strategic, what are we doing and why? It's the difference between chess and checkers or the good hustler's critique of a bad hustler: "he plays for the hundred and misses the grand every time!"

My view is the circumstances that created the events that resulted in tragedy of Michael Brown's much too early death can be placed squarely at the feet of black leadership, or I should have said at the failure of black leadership to fulfill the only moral imperative of leadership – protecting and advancing the interest of the people you lead.

I say this not from the perspective of some uninvolved third party, but as a member of that leadership for the last 30 years. Now there are a lot of African-American suits that will disagree, but that doesn't stop it from being true. There will be an official report of who did it and what happened, but real questions for us revolve around why? And by “why?” I don't mean the Ferguson policeman that pulled the trigger, but why could Ferguson, and by inference all of St Louis, be a place where the conditions that produce these outcomes take root and flourish?

The political negligence of black leadership over the last 30 years has produced an existential threat to the black community that calls our very existence into question. While Michael Brown was literally lost to us Saturday afternoon, how many thousands of young black men and women are we figuratively losing every day to poverty, drugs, violence and failing public schools?

There are major organs in the human body that make life possible, but as crucial as they are we can live without some and some can be replaced when they break down. These organs could not function for us without the blood that carries oxygen and other vital nutrients that allow these organs to do what they need to do. When blood no longer reaches the organs, they fail.

Politics is the art and science of acquiring and using power to make public policies that will benefit you and your community. Don't ever believe that nonsense that right-wing hucksters and hustlers sell scared working-class white folks that government is your problem and the free market is the rapture. Every successful economic activity requires the support of public policy. If government isn’t important, why do the rich and privileged spend so much money to control it? To protect and advance their wealth and privilege, that's why. Politics is to the health of a community what blood is to the body: essential.

I want to make an important distinction between government programs and public policy. A program is just that, but public policy defines the rules of the game, and he who makes the rules always wins the game. It's one of those things you can count on, like the sun coming up in the east. Every major issue facing the black community has a solution, and implementing that solution begins with a change in public policy. A change in public policy requires control, or at least major influence on government. That requires power – that's politics!

The reason the Ferguson Police Department looks (97 percent white) and functions the way it does is public policy. If the government of Ferguson looked like the Ferguson community (67 percent African-American), it could have had a different police force. I say “could,” because in St. Louis African-American leaders are no guarantee of better public policy for the black community. It's what I call the fallacy of the politics of melanin; you can no longer afford to assume that ethnicity equals political allegiance or competence.

Competent public leadership is not showing up in church praying and giving speeches for the benefit of TV cameras. It requires showing up every day, educating and organizing the community to protect and advance its interest. It means when you're in the room you represent the interests of the people that sent you, not acquiescing to the wishes of those you are negotiating with.

Why my generation’s failure to provide public leadership is so stunning is because all of us owe whatever we’ve become to the leadership and political activism of those who came before us. We are fruit of their struggle and sacrifice, and unfortunately it’s a bitter fruit. Upon giving up this seat, my advice to the next generation of leaders is: be leaders!The community we leave you is a testament to what happens to a people when leadership fails to perform.

Use my time in the seat as a warning, and not an example. We lost our way long before we lost Michael Brown.

Mike Jones is senior policy advisor for County Executive Charlie Dooley and a member of the State Board of Education.

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(4) comments

In My Opinion

I hope everyone sees this comment. To have a 70 percent African American population and a 94 percent white + 2 of the 3 African Americans on the Ferguson police force that look like sell outs, is a 99 percent white police force.

A white mayor. Five of six council members are white.

I think Michael Brown's death has made it apparently clear that the people of Ferguson need to VOTE!!!

I know a redneck when I see one, and that entire police department looks racist.

At some point do you plan to stand up and fight for your rights or just loot and riot as if this is going to accomplish something.

Let violence be met with violence.

When this officer walks, and he will walk unless there is forensic evidence that Michael Brown was shot in the back, guess what, there are no more stores to loot.

Then what are you going to do????


never have so many words been used to say so little. there is one substantive sentence in this piece and it is: "the political negligence of 'black leadership' (my quote marks) over the last 30 years has produced an existential threat to the black community that calls our very existence into question." "black leadership" in this community is neither respected nor feared. there remain no consequences for economic and social discrimination directed at blacks, so why should white cops fear any consequences from shooting us down? black democrats sit in office and do nothing to force racist white trade unions to share the high-paying jobs they have with black men. black democrats sit in office and do nothing to demand that white teachers unions be accountable for the failed schools that exist in black communities. black democrats do nothing to use their leverage to force white businesses to provide venture and growth capital to build black-owned businesses. black democrats do nothing to create and support black power in this community.

who is the black person in our community that white leaders respect and fear? charlie dooley, without a college degree who speaks ebonics and who they know is propped up by white lawyer john temporiti and the remnants of the westfall adiminstration? lewis reed or darlene green, the highest-ranking black elected officials in st louis city? atlanta changed because of maynard jackson, who happened to be a democrat but who believed that the primary purpose of black leaders was to take (that's right, TAKE) economic and political power from whites, who never concede power without a fight. who does? they had their fight in atlanta and maynard won. that's why atlanta is the way it is today. he beat the white business and political communities and then they were able to come together to make atlanta better for both communities. we've never had that fight in st louis and there is nobody black who is qualified to lead one today. that's why we'll continue to be shot in the street and denied work even on public projects that our tax dollars pay for and under-educated in public schools that serve white teachers unions and not black parents and students.


Very good article and comments. As a member of the State Board of Education, the Black Community is looking and seeking your leadership in enduring our children receive a quality education through local governance and commitment.


If tactics and strategies are not in alignment, you are likely to achieve neither objective. Very perceptive article and good advice for those who seek change.

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