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Ferguson Residents Embrace Dialogue At Town Hall Meetings

Emanuele Berry|St. Louis Public Radio

At Ferguson's second town hall meetings Tuesday evening, the issue was communication between Ferguson residents and leaders.

Chris LaPorta, a resident who attended the meeting, said afterward that those in attendance discussed how the city shares information with the community.

“Many of the folks have said they don’t have Twitter, they don’t have Facebook and they really need some other way to get their information,” LaPorta said.

Two separate meetings were held at the same time, one at Our Lady Guadalupe Church and the other at the First Baptist Church Ferguson. Like last week, the meetings were closed to nonresidents of Ferguson and the media. U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service is overseeing the Ferguson town halls.

In addition to DOJ representatives, local officials, including Ferguson city council members, were present at the meetings.

Beyond the city's communication with residents, LaPorta said they also discussed communication among residents.

“A couple of folks said they want to get a roundtable to have some protest leaders, city leaders and other residents to come together and start having some conversations,” she said.

Some people made efforts to start a discussion directly after the meeting.

Although the town hall was closed to nonresidents, a handful of protesters hung around outside. While some chanted, a few engaged in a dialogue with those who had attended the meeting.

Ferguson resident Kathleen Magrecki stopped to talk with protesters outside of the First Baptist Church of Ferguson.

“The meeting made me want to come out and see people and talk to them and say I love you,” she said. “You’re a fellow human being in this world. And it’s important for me to know and perhaps if we do open up our dialogue with one another, maybe we will make a great representation for the rest of the places this can and may happen in.”

Magrecki says she wants to get to know the protesters and activists better, so when they see her, they say hi.

“I don’t feel like a racist. I feel love for these guys, but I know that I need to learn to understand it better and I want them to understand me better.”

Credit Emanuele Berry|St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson resident, Kathleen Magrecki speaks with activist Taurean Russell.

One of the people Magrecki hopes will say hi to her is activist Taurean Russell. Taurean, who is not a Ferguson resident, was not allowed to attend the meeting, but he was ready to talk with residents like Magrecki afterward.

“We just need to talk,” he said. “The dialogue is what starts it and then the action is what keeps it and the solution is what fixes it. So if we can work toward the first step, then we’ll be fine. The first step is the dialogue and we need to be comfortable saying things to each other and not crying about it or walking away from the conversation.”

Russell said progress requires conversations to take place among people of differing opinions.

“I always make this point, racism is not going to be solved just by black people,” Russell said. “It would have been solved with the reconstruction period. And we tried to solve it with the civil rights act in the civil rights period, so it’s not going work like that.”

Town hall meetings are planned for the following three Tuesdays: Oct. 7, Oct. 21 and Nov. 4. Each focuses on a different topic. Next week the discussion will center around diversity and racial tension.