Law enforcement should “minimize use of militarized weaponry” to prevent the civil unrest that occurred in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, a Black 18-year-old shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, according to a report issued Monday by the 16-member commission appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon (D).
After nearly ten months of public hearings, expert testimony, exhaustive research, and an estimated 20,000 hours of work by commissioners and other volunteers, the 198-page report makes several recommendations for reform in a wide range of issues to address the systematic racial inequities at the root of the days and nights of protests.
The commission’s report, Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity, was officially presented to the public Monday afternoon during a press conference at the Center for Workforce Innovation at St. Louis Community College in Ferguson.
Rev. Starsky Wilson, the co-chair of the commission, gave a statement at the beginning of the press conference and acknowledged the difficulty of the task with which the commission was faced. “This was tough,” Wilson said. “And the only promise that we can make to the region is that it gets tougher.”
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Wilson described the difficulty of listening to the many community members and debating possible reforms while creating the report. “You come to some common ground that is more than the lowest common denominator,” Wilson said.
Wilson emphasized that the report was only the first step in the process of addressing racial inequality, and that moving forward will require transparency and accountability. “We have offered a path, not the path, but a path,” Wilson said. “This work requires accountability … to ensure this report does not become dust on a shelf.”
The co-chairmen of the commission, Wilson and Rich McClure, presented the “people’s report” to Nixon, who thanked the commission members for their “unflinching courage” at “a moment of reckoning for our state and nation.”
Nixon noted the progress made in reforms by local municipalities and the state legislature, but pointed out that the commission’s report outlines many reforms still required. “The way to prove that this work means something is to do something,” Nixon said. “The commission provided a forum and created momentum to provide a way forward to meaningful reform.”
The report states that the events in Ferguson should “represent a collective awakening to the issues that many in our region knew and understood, but for many others were invisible,” and that “path to racial equity demands time and persistence, risk and resources.”
The commission’s report included 189 “calls to action”—a host of policy areas including police reform, court reform, education reform, access to health care, employment, housing, and racial inequalities.
Some of the report’s proposed criminal justice reforms include consolidating the St. Louis-area police departments and municipal courts, the establishment of a publicly available statewide database of data on police shootings, and the development of a comprehensive statewide plan for law enforcement response to mass demonstrations.
The report acknowledges the “limit to the influence over decision-making” the commission has, and that it “does not have the power to enact” its many calls to action. The authors make clear that the report is “meant to serve as a springboard” and an “outline of a path forward.”
Community leaders are skeptical about how effective the commission can be at bringing about reform. Montague Simmons, executive director of the Organization for Black Struggle, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he had doubts that the commission’s work would lead to policy change.
“It may validate some of the things we have been saying,” Simmons said. “Usually commissions come out with reports that are as honest as all day. But then government doesn’t respond.”
The commission’s intent was to publish the report’s recommendations in plain language, as opposed to the often technocratic language found in similar reports.
“The general consensus or stereotype about a commission report, especially one that is charged by definition to be focused on policy recommendations, is that it’s going to be wonky and dense and not interesting and hard to read,” Nicole Hudson, a public relations consultant retained by the commission, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “So we wanted to make an intentional choice to use the language in which we are spoken to and reflect that as much as possible back to the people.”
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III told the Associated Press that the community has made several changes, including installing a new police chief and municipal judge. Knowles said he was concerned that the name of the commission is misleading.
“One of the worst things they could have done is naming it `The Ferguson Commission,”’ Knowles said. “That’s not what it’s about. When you do that, it makes it real easy for other communities not feeling the pressure to ask, `Why do we need to change? There wasn’t a riot in our section of the region.”’