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Slay To Talk About Ferguson At Clinton Presidential Library Conference

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

(Updated 11 am, Thurs., Oct 9 with links to national coverage.) When St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay meets with mayors and police chiefs from around the country this week in Little Rock, Ark., he’ll be talking about the lessons learned from the turmoil in Ferguson. 

The summit at the Clinton Presidential Library is expected to focus on the issues the unrest brought to the surface. But Slay said Tuesday that nobody can “really talk about Ferguson until you first of all talk about Michael Brown.”

“This is an 18-year-old African-American young man. He just graduated from high school. He was shot to death in the middle of the street in broad daylight, very sweltering heat," Slay said. “This was a young man who had family members — a mom and a dad and cousins. He also had neighbors and friends mourning his death. And so the level of emotions is very high in a situation like that. That’s something that you can’t lose sight of.”

Slay is expected to speak today at a meeting organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The two-day gathering is marking the 20th anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s COPS program, which provided grants for cities to hire or reassign police officers. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson is also expected to attend the conference.

According to a press release from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the event — which features Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder as speakers — will also “include a discussion of lessons to be learned from the events that occurred in Ferguson.”

Slay said Brown’s death at the hands of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson “brought to the surface and may have magnified many issues” – especially related to race relations in St. Louis. That includes disparities in health and education in the black community as well as economic deterioration in majority-black areas of the region.

“There’s a lot of protesting going on and some rioting. And some of things that are causing that are these feelings that have been locked inside and felt for many, many decades and years,” Slay said. “The protesters aren’t looking at just being heard. They want action. They want something positive to happen.”

The best response, Slay said, is making sure “we have partnerships with the broader community to make some real positive change.”

“This terrible tragedy, the shooting of this young man in Ferguson on Aug. 9 in the middle of the day is something we will make something good out of,” Slay said. “Something good has to happen out of this. And that’s what we’re going to be talking with mayors all across the country. We need to do more to address them. We have do more than just listen.”

At the event, the Washington Post reported, Holder "called for an expanded review of police techniques and tactics in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting to provide national direction to law enforcement."

Arkansas Online reported that Clinton told the assembled group that community policing works: "Noting a citizen was killed by police in Los Angeles shortly after the Aug. 9 shooting in Ferguson and 'things went back to normal pretty quickly because of the aggressive community relations strategy that had been instituted and was implemented.'"

In addition to Clinton, Holden and Slay, other speakers at the Little Rock event include the mayors of Sacramento, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans, New Haven and Salt Lake City.

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