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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

An 11-Year-Old Provides Words Of Wisdom About Ferguson's Underlying Problems

University City resident Marquis Govan has been going to St. Louis County Council meetings for three months. He made a speech before the council last Tuesday about the turmoil in Ferguson.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
University City resident Marquis Govan has been going to St. Louis County Council meetings for three months. He made a speech before the council last Tuesday about the turmoil in Ferguson.

The turmoil in Ferguson drew the attention of some powerful people. Everybody from state legislators to the President of the United States spoke out about Michael Brown’s death and its aftermath.

While Marquis Govan doesn’t have a fancy title, the 11-year-old has some poignant ideas about the conflict. The University City resident has a ravenous interest in politics – and plenty to say about what’s going on in Ferguson.

“The problem is not the looting and things like that,” Govan said. “We need these jobs. We need better living and housing conditions out there. People need to start getting out to vote.”

This reporter discovered Govan at last week’s St. Louis County Council meeting, during a point in time when confrontations between police and protestors in Ferguson were still quite pronounced. Despite that, the meeting was pretty dry -- and not particularly well attended. No major bills were debated. No news broke. And members of the council were civil with each other, for a change

Marquis Govan speaks before the St. Louis County Council last Tuesday.

It would have been total loss for this reporter had Councilwoman Hazel Erby not called Govan up to the podium to make a public statement. Wearing finely pressed slacks and a shirt and tie, Govan lowered the microphone to his height and said this:

“The people of Ferguson I believe don’t need tear gas thrown at them,” Govan said. “I believe they need jobs. I believe the people of Ferguson … they don’t need to be hit with batons. What they need are people to be investing in their businesses.”

It was a remarkable address. Adults with post-graduate degrees have had trouble encapsulating what the problems in Ferguson mean. With no prepared notes or outside help, Govan managed to articulate the underlying issues of the situation pretty well.

After making a phone call or two, we located Govan and convinced him and his great-grandmother to drive him to St. Louis Public Radio’s studios for an interview. His dedication to politics is immense; he’s been attending county council meetings for three months. (He got to witness the sometimes hostile clashes between the council and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, which he said “was pretty ridiculous that you had adults acting like children.”)

Govan's speech to the county council.

When we got to talk a bit more about his speech to the council, Govan said the media wasn’t concerned about the deeper problems at play in Ferguson.

“All the wrong issues are actually being discussed and brought up,” Govan said. “But none of the issues with jobs – about why we can’t get jobs in our neighborhoods and why can’t we get better education just like the people in West County and South County. We need people investing our businesses in North County. And we’re just not getting it.”

During his speech to the council, Govan asked “when we have a majority African-American community and we have majority white police departments, where are all the African-American police officers?” That’s become a big topic of conversation recently, especially since the Ferguson Police Department is a largely white force serving a majority black community.

During our interview, I asked why that disparity bothers him. Govan provided this hypothetical situation:

“Think about it: If minorities were in all of the white neighborhoods,” Govan said. “Think about if they were the majority in those neighborhoods. Would they treat those people right? Some of them will. But a large minority of them won’t. And that’s the same thing that is happening in the minority community.”

Govan talks with St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum about Ferguson, Missouri politics and his political future.

During our 20 minute conversation, Govan had plenty to say about Ferguson; the St. Louis County executive’s Democratic primary between Dooley and Councilman Steve Stenger; and how to get more young people interested in politics.

He was so sharp and well versed in regional politics, that it prompted an obvious question: Does he want to run for office when he’s older?

“Absolutely,” he said.

For Govan, politicians “just aren’t there.” He said they don’t go to Jefferson City or Washington, D.C., to fix problems. Rather, they go to claim a title or for their “own political interests.”

If he’s able to win election in 15 or 20 years, Govan said, he’d be different.

“I want to go to wherever I get my seat to actually represent the people,” he said. “I might have political interests that the majority of people in my district don’t support. That’s OK. I can change it. That’s not what politicians in Washington say. That’s not what politicians in Jefferson City say. That’s not what the politicians in my own city say. That’s not the way the county council does it either.”

“They don’t change their views – they keep their own views,” he added. “And they really don’t care what the people of their districts think.”

Let the Missouri political world be on notice: It’s only a matter of time before Marquis Govan bursts onto the scene.

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.