The shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer was the flash point for a critical national discussion about race, policing, and the unequal and selective application of justice. Following the wave of grief, protests, and calls for change, St. Louis and the region were placed under the public microscope: Department of Justice reports on Ferguson, released in March and June 2015, found that the local municipal court targeted poor, black community members with its harsh fines and fees and that the local police department routinely violated citizens’ rights, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered an independent commission to look into the “underlying root causes that led to the unrest” after Brown’s death.
Unlike the two reports on Ferguson issued by the Department of Justice, this report is largely written in plain language to make it accessible to community members as well as policy makers and experts. While the authors indicate that their findings are intended to be “useful in directly impacting policy,” the report calls itself the “people’s report.”
Acknowledging that discussing race “makes a lot of people uncomfortable,” the report’s authors insist that its readers “make no mistake: This is about race.” To avoid talking about race, the report’s authors establish in the introduction, would be to avoid making “true, long-term, sustainable progress.”
From recommending that the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour to calling for a better public transit system to consolidating the 81 municipal courts in the St. Louis area, the report is nothing if not ambitious. The primary focal points include citizen–law enforcement relations, child well-being and education equity, economic inequity and opportunity, and racial equity and reconciliation.
It is so broad-reaching in its recommendations—featuring 189 “calls to action”—that some in the community have questioned its practical impact. The recommendations seem more likely to be embraced in St. Louis County, which is 24 percent African American and mostly Democratic, than in the rest of the state, where Republicans hold six of the state’s other seven seats in Congress.
“What this group has done over the last year has just put into written form what so many people have already voiced for years about change that needs to happen in the St. Louis region, but identifying a problem and fixing it are different,” Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman, told The New York Times. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Missouri state senator, also told the Times, “The practicality of getting any of this done is close to null.”