Panel Studying Racial Divide in Missouri Presents a Blunt Picture of Inequity

Monica Davey, New York Times, September 13, 2015

A commission appointed by Missouri’s governor after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer is calling for sweeping changes across the St. Louis region on matters of policing, the courts, education, health care, housing and more.

In a 198-page report to be made public in Ferguson, Mo., on Monday afternoon, the commission lays out goals that are ambitious, wide ranging and, in many cases, politically delicate. Among 47 top priorities, the group calls for increasing the minimum wage, expanding eligibility for Medicaid and consolidating the patchwork of 60 police forces and 81 municipal courts that cover St. Louis and its suburbs.

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“We know that talking about race makes a lot of people uncomfortable,” says the report, which is titled “Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity.” “But make no mistake: This is about race.”

The 16-member Ferguson Commission, announced last fall by Gov. Jay Nixon, has been praised for the diversity of its members, which include people from law enforcement, the protest movement, business, education and the clergy. Over the past 10 months, they held 17 meetings of the full commission, convened dozens of times in smaller groups and heard from nearly 2,000 members of the public in sessions that sometimes grew tense.

The Ferguson Commission’s costs, which have reached about $550,000, not including in-kind donations, have been paid for by the state and foundations.

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The next step, the commission says, is to designate an organization to guide the recommendations into reality. {snip}

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In remarks prepared for the release of the report on Monday, Mr. Nixon praised the Ferguson Commission’s work as channeling “the pain and energy” of the protests. “The way to prove this work means something is to do something,” he said. “And much already has been done.”

The commission, though, envisions many more shifts ahead. It calls for an end to predatory lending practices, and the creation of “inclusionary” zoning laws. It wants a task force to study the complex education landscape in the St. Louis region, and a revision of the state’s schools accreditation system.

On questions of policing, the proposed changes are among the most extensive. The commission calls for assigning the state attorney general as a special prosecutor in all cases of police use of force resulting in deaths; requiring the state highway patrol to investigate most police use of force cases ending in deaths; creating a statewide use of force database, available to the public, charting use-of-force complaints; and directing police departments to revise their policies and training to authorize only the minimal use of force needed.

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[Editor’s Note: For a copy of the full report, and details on its astonishingly broad and intrusive “calls to action” click here.]

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