Trust must be restoredPublished 10:57am Friday, August 15, 2014
Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the city has experienced unrest, violence, destruction and overreaction. Fundamentally the city is undergoing a crisis of trust.
Americans have long trusted their elected officials, and their police, to act in the interest of the community. But that trust has, in recent years, been undermined by actions that few could argue are in the benefit of the community.
When states like North Carolina and Texas pass new voter regulations, ostensibly to eliminate voter fraud in the voting booth, but such fraud does not in fact exist, those targeted by the new laws cannot help but notice that the color of their skin ends up as a common denominator for the new exclusions to hard fought and long denied voting rights.
When communities like New York City create a “stop and frisk” policy that ends up largely as a “stop and frisk the minority male policy,” there is an understandable doubt that the policy is one for the benefit of at least some communities.
And when in Ferguson, a community that is 67 percent black with a police force that is 95 percent white, are stunned by the shooting death of a young African American man who was unarmed and walking down a public street in broad daylight, there is reasonable concern over how such a death could occur and be justified.
But the loss of trust did not begin in Ferguson on the day of Michael Brown’s death, rather his death at the hands of a Ferguson police officer was the culmination of time and events that conspired to end in tragedy.
The city of St. Louis, and the surrounding suburbs of St Louis County, where Ferguson is located, has long been troubled by racial discrimination and segregation.
St. Louis was long at the center of housing discrimination going back to the early 1900’s with a 1916 city ordinance prohibiting blacks from buying homes in predominately white neighborhoods.
When that ordinance was struck down sales covenants were created that prohibited whites from selling their homes to blacks, a policy that remained in force until 1948, when it was stopped by the Supreme Court.
Emerging from that history was the practice of steering black families to certain communities like Ferguson that continued de facto segregation and created communities engulfed by poverty.
Given this history Ferguson could have done better at its elected officials and police representing the community. But they did not and the result is a police force that does not reflect the community it serves.
The path to restoring trust in Ferguson will require transparency and honesty.
The name of the officer involved in the death of Brown must be released along with, at the very least, the preliminary report of the events of that night as stated by the officer.
The chief of police should be suspended or fired as his actions have only made a difficult situation more difficult by overseeing a police force of minority whites with the reputation of history of black stoppings and arrests far out of balance with the overall community. Even now this chief has offered no urgency to find the facts surrounding the needless death of Michael Brown.
The city should request the U.S. Department of Justice to take immediate oversight of the Ferguson police force and to directly conduct the investigation to follow.
Trust can only follow transparency and justice can only exist in the open examination of the facts.
The violence in Ferguson cannot be justified and must end, but for Ferguson to be restored the trust of the community must be earned again. So far there are few indicators that task has been undertaken.
Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.