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'One Ferguson' Group Emerges To Make Changes To Fractured City

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Ferguson City Council meetings have been tumultuous since Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson. But on Tuesday, the tone changed a bit when a diverse group of Ferguson residents came forward to make changes to their community. 

A racially diverse group of Ferguson residents used the council’s public comment section to introduce their new group – One Ferguson. The speakers want their group to be a conduit to make changes to the city’s police, economic development and judicial procedures.

“It unfortunately has taken a tragedy to cause us to recognize and acknowledge that there are disparities in our community,” said Adrienne Hawkins, one of the leaders of the group. “These disparities need to be addressed. We acknowledge that there are immediate short-term issues that still need to be addressed by the City Council, law enforcement and regional leaders during the next few days and weeks.”

Hawkins said her group is urging “all parties to do what is necessary to not further the divide and separate in our community. ...

“While many groups have emerged to focus on Ferguson, you and I know if our community is truly going to heal and transform it will be up to us … the Ferguson residents and other stakeholders to do the work,” Hawkins said.

Council meetings since August have featured tense and often angry speeches from residents. And Tuesday’s meeting still featured calls from some residents for Wilson to be arrested.

But most of the meeting featured residents promoting programs aimed at educating and bringing together the city. These words  weren’t lost on Alexis Templeton, a University of Missouri-St. Louis student who’s been active in the protests over Brown’s death. 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson resident Alexis Templeton -- who's been active in protesting Brown's death -- said the emergence of One Ferguson was a positive sign for her hometown.

“I was really impressed that they made sure to mention that they were a diverse group of people and they made sure to get up as a diverse group of people,” Templeton said. “And it seems like they really came together to try to get unity within this community.”

When asked why she thought some unity was emerging, Templeton said “I think people are tired on both ends – but for different reasons.”

“At some point, you need somebody to lean on when you get tired,” Templeton said. “And you lean on the people in your community. You lean on your neighbor. You lean on their next-door neighbor’s next-door neighbor. And that’s what’s going on right now.”

Council passes resolutions

Meanwhile, the council expressed support for changing how the state deals with officer-involved shootings. 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
It was another standing room only crowd for the Ferguson City Council meeting.

The council passed without opposition two non-binding resolutions: The first supports setting new guidelines for investigating shootings, while the other prompts departments to issue annual reports on deadly uses of force. Neither resolution was particularly specific on how the state legislature should proceed.

While the resolutions are purely advisory and have no force of law, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III says a message was sent after Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. He noted the council passed a resolution earlier this year asking for discussions about a city-county merger to go forward.

“Some of the things people continue to talk about or are concerned about are things the city of Ferguson cannot address. They’re above our level of government,” Knowles said. “However, even though they are – the city of Ferguson hears the concerns. We understand them. And council members agree that they’re issues that need to be addressed.”

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, has floated the idea of having a special prosecutor investigate officer-involved shootings. It's widely expected that other legislators will put forward other bills in reaction to Brown's death and its aftermath.

Soon after the council meeting ended, CNN reported that Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson was planning to resign.It also said “city leadership would ask the St. Louis County police chief to take over management of Ferguson's police force.” 

(It’s unclear if the cable news outlet meant that Ferguson would dissolve its police department and contract with St. Louis County Police for protection, which happened in municipalities such as Jennings and Uplands Park.)

Knowles told St. Louis Public Radio in a text message that the report amounted to "rumors." And Jackson – who has been faced intense criticism since Brown was killed -- told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he had no plans to resign.

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