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McCaskill sees Ferguson's legacy in Wisconsin and Oklahoma events

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says she learned a lot from her unsuccessful run for governor in 2004.
Sen. McCaskill's Flickr page

Ferguson may already be having an impact on how officials elsewhere respond to incidents involving racial tensions. 

That's the opinion of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who told reporters in a conference call Wednesday that "the fact that lessons have been learned from what happened in Ferguson is a terrific legacy for this event that obviously ripped us apart in St. Louis.”

One lesson officials appear to have learned is the important of a quick, decisive response.

In Madison, Wisconsin when a white police officer shot and killed Tony Robinson, an unarmed black 19 year old man on Monday, Police Chief Michael Koval, quickly posted a statement on his public blog expressing his sympathy to the man’s family.  

I begin this blog with this thought hanging heavy in my heart.  Our community is grieving and hurting over the loss of a young African American man, whose life was ended far too soon.  His family, his friends, and our community are in mourning. The police are part of this community -- and we share this sense of loss.  ... Reconciliation cannot begin without my stating ‘I am sorry,’ and I don't think I can say this enough.  I am sorry.  I hope that, with time, Tony's family and friends can search their hearts to render some measure of forgiveness.... 

Unlike Ferguson, the Madison Police Department also quickly released the name of the officer involved in the shooting.  Officer Matt Kenny has been involved in two fatal shootings.  The first, came eight years ago when a man pointed a pellet gun at him. 

When University of Oklahoma students in a fraternity recorded themselves singing a racist chant, President David Boren immediately denounced the behavior in a forceful public statement

To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves “Sooners.” Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.

Boren immediately severed relations between the school and the fraternity in question, ordered its house on campus closed and gave frat members one day to remove their personal belongings. “There must be a zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation,” Boren said.

Lessons still to be learned

But even with Ferguson helping to change the sensitivity and tone of such events elsewhere, McCaskill says, “We’re going to have to work a long time to pull back together.”

One place to start, she says, is with area residents and community leaders reading the exhaustive reports issued by the Department of Justice on the Ferguson police and the shooting of Michael Brown.

“I’m trying to say this everywhere I go: I hope everyone reads both reports,” says McCaskill, noting as well that it is important that the public understand that it was the “physical evidence” that controlled the outcome of the investigation into Brown's death. 

“It wasn’t whether it was the federal government or the state government, it wasn’t whether it was a grand jury or whether it was an FBI investigation, it wasn’t whether it was Bob McCulloch or Eric Holder," says the former prosecutor. "It was the physical evidence, not the witnesses, the physical evidence and I think that’s important because I want the people who live in St. Louis County to have faith in this system of justice.”

The second report documented what McCaskill calls “outrageous systemic issues of inequality” in Ferguson criminal justice system.  She says, “We all have to get busy” addressing similar issues in other communities because “we’re not going to have the Justice Department looking at every police department.”

McCaskill says she’s hopeful “that we will be able to pull together some of the leaders of all the communities in St. Louis and have them look through the report on the Ferguson Police Department and see if they identify any behavior that might be similar to their communities."

Eventually, he country should move back to the model of community policing, says McCaskill, “where the citizens don’t feel like they’re adversaries with their police departments, but rather that they are partners with them for public safety."