Why Massive Change Is Needed to Heal a Racially Divided Missouri

© REUTERS/Lucas Jackson A small group of demonstrators stand in front of a McDonald's restaurant as they prepare to protest in Ferguson, Missouri August 12, 2015.
© REUTERS/Lucas Jackson A small group of demonstrators stand in front of a McDonald’s restaurant as they prepare to protest in Ferguson, Missouri August 12, 2015.

Widespread racial inequities in the St. Louis area require sweeping changes in policing as well as in courts, the education system and other areas, according to a report issued Monday by a commission set up by Missouri’s governor. 

The Ferguson Commission report said that the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014 and the mass demonstrations that followed represent a “collective awakening” to a number of issues that have previously been invisible to many.

“We believe that if we attempt to skirt the difficult truths, if we try to avoid talking about race, if we stop talking about Ferguson, as many in the region would like us to, then we cannot move forward,” the report said.

The 16-member Ferguson Commission was formed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon in November as a means for exploring and addressing issues raised by protesters and others in the St. Louis region. Its members include clergy, protest leaders, business leaders and law enforcement representatives.

The commission said the racial divide through the St. Louis region is deep and cuts across access to healthcare, housing and high-quality education, and fosters injustice in the courts.

It followed a report by the U.S. Department of Justice and other analyzes that have found disparate treatment of blacks by police and municipal courts in the area, including in Ferguson.

The commission report said that data shows that last year blacks were 75 percent more likely to be stopped by police for traffic violations than whites. And, the report stated, data shows that more than half the courts in St. Louis County engage in “illegal and harmful” practices of charging high court fines and fees for nonviolent offenses and then arresting people who cannot pay.

The commission made 189 policy recommendations.

Among other things, the commission recommended that law enforcement agencies statewide require law enforcement to identify themselves to individuals they stop; prohibit discriminatory profiling; improve police training in how to interact with civilians; and integrate civilian evaluations into departmental operations.

The report, titled “Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity,” can be found at http://bit.ly/1OaB6Za. (Reporting by Carey Gillam)

Source: Reuters

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