STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Today marks two years since Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. St. Louis Public Radio's Durrie Bouscaren examines what has happened since then.
DURRIE BOUSCAREN, BYLINE: Here on West Florissant Avenue, the QuickTrip gas station that burned during protests in 2014 is now a fresh patch of clear dirt ready for the construction of a new Urban League center. There seems to be considerable optimism here in Ferguson. Strike up a conversation with some of the town's 21,000 residents and it often shifts to how hard it is convincing out-of-towners that Ferguson is full of green lawns and kids swim teams with little sign of the damage two years ago. Twenty-five-year-old Rodney Hubbard says he wants to stay.
RODNEY HUBBARD: I've always loved this city. I don't like what it does. But, like, everybody got family. They love their family. They don't like everything they do. But they still love their family. It's just the same way with your hometown.
BOUSCAREN: When the Justice Department investigated Ferguson's police department, it found ample evidence of racial bias and excessive ticketing for minor traffic infractions. That review showed that fines generated by the municipal court here acted as a revenue generator for the city, disproportionately targeting black and low-income residents.
Vehicle stop data from last year showed that Ferguson police officers are making about a quarter of the stops they did before the shooting of Michael Brown. But black drivers are still pulled over much more frequently than white drivers. Rodney Hubbard says there do seem to be fewer stops. But leave the city limits, and, he says, St. Louis County's other 50-plus police departments don't seem to be making the same changes.
HUBBARD: It's a lot of police departments that still practice that same - we got to meet the quota. We got to make the money situation.
BOUSCAREN: Under a federal consent decree to reform its police department, revenue from Ferguson's municipal court has plummeted. This year, a clear majority of Ferguson voters approved increases to the city's sales and utility taxes to help shore up the budget. One of them was retired schoolteacher Ruth Benner.
RUTH BENNER: Our family personally thought that Ferguson was an integrated place and things were going well. Obviously, that was not true. Maybe I'm still kind of, you know, pollyannaish or whatever. But Ferguson might have the best tools for making change.
BOUSCAREN: I met up with Felicia Pulliam, a longtime community organizer, at the Ferguson Municipal Library just as a tutoring group got under way a couple tables over. Pulliam points to voter turnout, attendance at city council meetings and protests as evidence that the past two years have been a game changer.
FELICIA PULLIAM: We the people are the ones that are responsible for shaping our community. And what we've learned is when we don't pay attention - when we leave it to someone else - then we get left out.
BOUSCAREN: Pulliam was appointed by Missouri's governor to the 16-member Ferguson Commission tasked with developing policy proposals in response to the protests. Pulliam says it'll take much longer than two years to address systemic issues like institutional racism.
PULLIAM: We ignored that cry 25 years ago. Here we are, a generation later, facing the same issues. And I hope this time we don't squander the opportunity.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Michael Brown.
LESLEY MCSPADDEN: (Chanting) What's it say?
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Michael Brown.
MCSPADDEN: (Chanting) What's it say?
BOUSCAREN: In the days leading up to today's anniversary of Michael Brown's death, his mother, Lesley McSpadden, led a march to the street where he died.
MCSPADDEN: It's going to be rough for me. I don't know if I'll even be able to get out the bed. But I'm here now. And I want you to know that we're not standing still. We are moving forward. And we couldn't do it if we all didn't do it as a force together collectively.
BOUSCAREN: Those who march wrap their arms around each other. Among them are the mothers of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Sean Bell, other men and boys whose deaths at the hands of police sparked protests and a deeper look at policing in America. For NPR News, I'm Durrie Bouscaren in St. Louis.
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