Residents Wait To See If Ferguson Commission Succeeds
ARUN RATH, HOST:
It is tense around St. Louis as they wait to hear whether a grand jury will indict a police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Missouri's governor has unveiled a commission that has highlighted some systematic problems and aims to eliminate them. St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum reports on how some residents are reacting to the governor.
JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: It's a downright serene morning on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson today. There are no protesters here, no police presence and little noise besides the sound of passing cars. Standing outside the Ferguson Burger Bar, a chilly Jarvis James (ph) says this is a normal day for the street that was ground zero for protests after Michael Brown's shooting death. It's been this way before and after Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency earlier this week.
JAMES: A lot of these young guys and young girls, man, they ain't going to come outside in no cold weather. But I think yeah, man, I think everybody's - the whole city, man, the whole country, man, is kind of on pins and needles, man, waiting on the grand jury.
ROSENBAUM: It was a different atmosphere the day before inside the Missouri History Museum. That's where a horde of media crammed into an auditorium to hear the governor reveal the members of his commission. It's made up of 16 people, nine black members and seven white members. It includes corporate executives, political activists, law enforcement veterans and faith leaders like Reverend Starsky Wilson.
REVEREND STARSKY WILSON: We won't have another moment, there will - to have an opportunity to kind of back up and look at, not only law enforcement practices, but governance and public education and access to health care - to really take a look at racial equity at all levels.
ROSENBAUM: But the crush of media appear less interested in the commission's makeup than in Nixon himself. The Democratic governor's leadership has come under intense scrutiny since Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson killed Brown. Some contend he was too slow to respond. Others say putting the state highway patrol in charge inflamed tensions. Now some protesters, like Janet Quanka (ph), are concerned about by declaring a state of emergency at a time when Ferguson is calm, the governor could actually heighten tensions.
JANET QUANKA: The majority of people who were demonstrating before were peaceful. They were angry. They were shouting. They were noisy. They were jumping up and down, but for Pete's sake, they weren't doing anything wrong.
ROSENBAUM: Tory Russell is part of the protest group Hands Up United. He's disheartened that it took Brown's death for policymakers to try to address this region's vexing racial problems. It's one of the reasons he's skeptical about the new commission.
TORY RUSSELL: It takes a dead body to hit the ground in the streets for someone to even ask the people, what do you need?
ROSENBAUM: But others here seem to be willing to give the Ferguson Commission a chance, calling it a rare opportunity to change how the state deals with poverty and race relations. Deb Lavender, a Democratic state representative-elect from St. Louis County, says harping on the governor isn't going to move things forward.
DEB LAVENDER: I think all of the people involved have done the best that they've been able to do. Could we go back and do something different? Absolutely. I think everybody's intent is good, and now we just need to corral it into a way that makes a true difference for us.
ROSENBAUM: For now, this region remains in a state of limbo. How both protesters and public officials respond in the days ahead could well determine just how tense it will become again on Ferguson streets. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis.
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