Ferguson Forward: How a Missouri Town Can Move a Region Forward

MHP Ronald JohnsonWith the change of police command structure in Ferguson, it appears calm has been restored and with that comes a moment. What exists is an opportunity to change course and proceed to the next level of productive race relations there. In order for that to occur, however, several things must happen.

The first is to resolve the Michael Brown homicide matter in a spirit of respectful honesty and transparency. Ferguson residents have spoken this week with clarity and resolve saying they’re not about to – as friends of mine sometimes say – fall for the old okey doke.

There can be no forward progress if the Brown matter doesn’t conclude in a resolution that residents feel bears a close resemblance to justice.

The next step is to stop seeing the week’s events as merely a Ferguson problem and understand how that community’s story fits the broader St. Louis County and St. Louis Metropolitan area narrative. Ferguson is isolated in this incident, but its demeanor is generally consistent with how this area sees, understands and processes race matters.

Perhaps the most difficult hurdle facing the area, then, is getting the greater community to understand how it too is a stakeholder in all this. That could be the single greatest challenge because the metropolitan area – including on the Missouri side St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County – is so proudly segmented.

St. Louis County has some 90 municipalities and none of them includes the city of St. Louis, from which the region derives its identity. Here, the municipal structure allows residents the convenience of tuning out other community’s business if that’s what they choose to do.

If that attitude continues post-Ferguson, it diminishes the likelihood of any measurable or sustainable progress.

Lastly, it’s a fatal mistake to characterize this as only a “black problem.” Initially, the images have been largely of mostly African American protesters in a community with a large African American population. But, what we’ve seen unfolding in Ferguson this week represents the sum total of so much more than that.

Infusing hope, enfranchising individuals – many who are out of work – establishing systems to bring about parity and adjusting attitudes to see all members of the community as assets rather than liabilities supersedes the politics of racial identity. Get bogged down again in that old pit and you’ll go virtually nowhere.

Can Ferguson and the broader region take the next big step? I’d like to be sanguine. For now, I’m mostly skeptical.

-Jonathan Clarke, August 15, 2014

© Copyright 2014 Jonathan Clarke, All rights reserved

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