Ferguson commission says change is slow in the city

Ferguson Commission Says Change Is Slow in the City

The Ferguson Commission has been doubted from the beginning.

"People would say, you know, 'This Ferguson Commission is just for the political cover; nothing's going to happen. I'm skeptical about it,'" said former commission member Daniel Isom.

"How can you come up with solutions if you don't have everybody at the table?" said Cool Valley Mayor Viola Murphy.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon tasked the volunteer group of activists, educators, police officers and other St. Louis citizens with producing a report to help fix all the issues that pushed Ferguson, Missouri, into the national spotlight two years ago. But the commission has learned identifying problems and fixing them are two very different things.

"This work is kind of like an onion where you think it's hard, you think it's unflinching — then you peel back another layer. ... We are actively partnering with about 25 organizations and have another 70 who have reached out to us to say, 'What do you think of this?'" said Nicole Hudson of Forward through Ferguson.

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Most iconic photos of Black Lives Matter movement since Ferguson
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Most iconic photos of Black Lives Matter movement since Ferguson
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Tear gas rains down on a woman kneeling in the street with her hands in the air after a demonstration over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his August 9, death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: Police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 12: A demonstrator protesting the killings of 18-year-olds Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri Police officer and Vonderrit Myers Jr. by an off duty St. Louis police officer gets help after being maced by police on October 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area has been struggling to heal since riots erupted in suburban Ferguson following Brown's death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 3: A demonstrator cries while gathering in Philadelphia to protest the Eric Garner grand jury decision during a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at City Hall December 3, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Organizers called for the demonstration after a grand jury in the Staten Island borough of New York City declined to indict the police officer who used a chokehold on Garner, resulting in his death. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 25: Police confront demonstrators during a protest on November 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Yesterday protesting turned into rioting following the grand jury announcement to not indict officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9. At least 12 buildings were torched and more than 50 people were arrested during the night-long rioting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - DECEMBER 20: Thousands of protesters from the group 'Black Lives Matter' disrupt holiday shoppers on December 20, 2014 at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
A police officer stands over activists, demanding justice for the death of Eric Garner, as they stage a 'die-in' during rush hour at Grand Central Terminal in the Manhattan borough of New York on December 3, 2014. A New York City grand jury on Wednesday returned no indictment against a white police officer who used a chokehold on an unarmed black man who died as police tried to arrest him for illegally selling cigarettes, local media reported. The grand jury in the city's borough of Staten Island decided against criminal charges for New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. The deadly encounter on July 17 was captured on a video that quickly spread over the Internet and helped fuel debates about how U.S. police use force, particularly against minorities. REUTERS/Adrees Latif (UNITED STATES - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY TRANSPORT)
A man protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Community leaders say the partnership approach is an improvement from the usual attempts at reform.

"What Starsky Wilson did ... he started reaching out to organizations that are actually doing the work in the community and asking which of these recommendations line up with your work? ... And that was pretty powerful," said Jamala Rogers of The Organization for Black Struggle.

Hudson said: "The work that needs to be done to implement the calls to action in the report is built off the work people have been doing in this community long before the commission ever existed."

So far, the most tangible accomplishment from the commission is the Missouri Senate bill SB 5, which dealt with court reform and was signed by the governor last summer.

The bill caps fees for minor traffic violations and prohibits throwing people in jail for failing to pay those fees — two problems outlined extensively in the Ferguson commission's report. SB 5 was the one proposal out of many that actually made it into law — and some say even it was toned down.

"There were 40-something pieces of legislation that went in that dealt with court reform, police issues. And out of 40-something, one of them came out, and it was a watered-down version, and then a judge seven months later struck most of that down, so when people see that, that's pretty discouraging," Rogers said.

But Hudson says she believes the people who have chosen to work on this cause don't have any room to complain.

"But even in that, this is work that we're kind of choosing to do and opting into, and the people who live the reality of the problems that we're trying to solve every day don't have an option whether to work on it," Hudson said.

Rogers said: "You want to get the reform, but along the way, the bigger part is how you're organizing people to change the reality. ... The wheels of justice turn slow."

The committee has thrown its cause into the competition for the MacArthur Foundation's $100 million grant called 100&Change. Finalists for the grant won't be announced until the summer of 2017.

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