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Some Ferguson Residents Wish The Commission Was Named Something Else

Mayor James Knowles III
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The problem with the Ferguson Commission, say some Ferguson residents, is its name.

“The makeup is basically business owners who don’t live in Ferguson; it’s clergy who don’t live in Ferguson,’’ said Cierra Douglas, a Ferguson resident who was among the applicants rejected for the 16-person panel. “Pretty much no one on the commission lives in Ferguson.”

That fact, says Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III, is causing confusion among city residents – and the public at large – who wrongly think the commission is focusing on issues facing Ferguson, instead of the broader matters that surpass its boundaries.

Knowles and Douglas aired their concerns during and after Tuesday night’s meeting of the Ferguson City Council. The meeting was the first held since the Nov. 24 announcement that a St. Louis County grand jury had decided against indicting then-Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The shooting touched off months of unrest, much of it in Ferguson. The Nov. 24 announcement touched off protests around the region and nation. In Ferguson, the non-indictment ignited violence and a rash of arson that destroyed several downtown buildings.

Tuesday’s council meeting was orderly. Security was tight, with the few dozen residents who showed up – as well as almost as many reporters -- each required to pass through metal detectors and have their bags and purses searched.

Only a handful of self-proclaimed protesters attended, and they sat quietly. One, Joshua Williams, made a brief, quietly delivered statement to the council complaining about the grand jury’s decision.

The rest of the small parade of speakers during the public-comment period – the highlight of the otherwise non-eventful meeting – cited ways to rebuild the community, physically and emotionally.

Adrian Shropshire, a retired carpenter, proposed a return of the police department’s bicycle patrols, which he said had generated a lot of goodwill in the 1990s.

Others suggested doing more to discourage home foreclosures and to aid people who need help maintaining their homes.

But it was Douglas’ comments that appeared to touch off the most applause. The mayor suggested afterward that her views likely struck a nerve, even among city officials.

Knowles said many residents and officials share “frustration and confusion about what the real role of the commission is.”

“The issues that have come up, many of them are regional and national issues,’’ Knowles said, referring to racial and economic inequality, and debates over the role of law enforcement.

He emphasized that the city is committed to addressing those issues, but he added that such matters are regional and national ones as well.

“You’ve got this confusion as to whether the Ferguson Commission is going to fix things in our community or these greater, regional systemic issues that have come to light,’’ the mayor said.

“I wish they wouldn’t call it the Ferguson Commission,’’ he added. “I think the name causes a lot of confusion.”

Douglas, by the way, said she plans to apply for a spot on one of the commission’s planned task forces. She would like to direct at least some commission's attention to the issues still facing the city of Ferguson.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.