The path through Ferguson

A few weeks back I finished reading the Ferguson Commission Report, "Forward through Ferguson, a Path toward Racial Equality." The report was published first online, and it is designed to be read online, browsing and clicking on links to follow themes and references. The deeper one goes, the denser the prose. However, linear learner that I am, I downloaded the text and read through all 222 pages, all 189 action recommendations.

It's a fine document, clearly and passionately written. There are four themes: Justice for All; Youth at the Center; Opportunity to Thrive; and Racial Equity. Racial Equity is the shortest of the sections, but it provides the framework for every point made in the report, asking over and over in the course of the writing: Whom does this benefit? Does this differentially impact racial and ethnic groups? What is missing that will decrease or eliminate racial disparities? One of the calls within the Racial Equity section is to "Engage the Faith Community in the Racial Equity Mission."

A hundred and eighty-nine recommendations is a daunting list. A community organizer friend of mine said right away, just hearing my first description, that the report was a mistake: They should have made just two recommendations.

However, the commission views it differently. They point out that the city fathers considered and rejected a proposal to review the state of our metro area in 2014 when the City of St. Louis turned 250 years old. The commission members took their chance to make that review of the region. They are very aware of all the commissions convened in the past 100 years in response to race riots and the place of those commission reports -- unopened, on library shelves. So while they chose to say more rather than less, they set out to say it well and place it on the Internet where youth can access it. Then they asked the community to take responsibility for implementation. And they made sure to give us a lot to do.

Metropolitan Churches United, for example, has an intern in north St. Louis City at a couple of schools working on just one recommendation, reduction of out-of-school suspensions. I only know that because I know the intern. I presume a lot of groups are taking small bites of this apple of 189 recommendations.

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I found a couple of sections I've carried to groups I work with. There's a three-page section about police technology: use of tasers; body cameras; equipment received from the Pentagon; electronic record keeping of summonses, bullets fired, camera video. The Peace Economy Project plans to do research, track legislation and consolidate past interviews of the 58 police departments in St. Louis County and the one in St. Louis to help sort out what steps need to be taken.

Another section calls for an end to childhood hunger. Actions there include being sure food pantries have enough food in summer; encouraging school administrators in the work of feeding children in school; and calling for changes in Missouri SNAP (food stamp) administration so that working parents don't fall to the end of the line and risk losing eligibility because they can't answer an investigative phone call while on the job. I'm hoping some Catholic sisters might take on these tasks. Food stamp eligibility is the tough policy issue, but the work is about making mindful phone calls, not beating the pavement.

In short, there's work for everyone. As the co-chairs (Starsky Wilson and Traci Blackmon) write at the beginning of the report, "This is our opportunity to realize that we don't have to see eye to eye in order to walk arm in arm."


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