Ferguson Commission Shines Light On Racially Divided St. Louis After Michael Brown's shooting, a group was tasked with investigating the region's inequalities. Their report points to deep racial and economic tensions, and calls for sweeping policy changes.
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Ferguson Commission Shines Light On Racially Divided St. Louis

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Ferguson Commission Shines Light On Racially Divided St. Louis

Ferguson Commission Shines Light On Racially Divided St. Louis

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A police shooting and unrest in Ferguson, Mo., raised a series of related questions. One question was just how an officer came to shoot 18-year-old Michael Brown. State and federal investigators ultimately found insufficient cause to charge the officer. A bigger question is what was happening in the Ferguson police force, and there, federal officials found major problems. A still bigger question involves race relations across the St. Louis area. That part of the investigation was the job of the Ferguson Commission, which releases a report today. St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum has an advanced look.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: Starsky Wilson is well aware he's venturing into familiar territory. The St. Louis reverend is one of the leaders of the Ferguson Commission, which was set up to come up with policy recommendations in the wake of Michael Brown's shooting death. When the 18-year-old was killed by a Ferguson police officer, his death set off riots and violence and posed deep questions about race relations in America. During the commission's final meeting last week, Wilson acknowledged other cities created panels in response to racially charged riots and failed to change anything. Wilson says an exception was Cincinnati, where citizens tackled their community's inequities in the early 2000s.

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STARSKY WILSON: People put in place accountability measures, such that those behaviors would be measured over time and evaluated, such that there can actually be cultural change, not just an accommodation and quiet.

ROSENBAUM: In its final report, the commission provides an unvarnished look at a racially divided St. Louis. It points to glaring gaps in how the region educates and polices African-American communities and provides dozens of suggestions on how to change the status quo. The report suggests changing school discipline policies and boosting health care coverage for the poor. It also includes a host of law enforcement-related changes, such as expanding police training and bringing in outside investigators to look into police-involved killings. With distrust between police and African-Americans still lingering, Ferguson Commissioner Dan Isom says a law enforcement policy shift is desperately needed.

DAN ISOM: If we look at ourselves in comparison to other states, we're behind the curve on police professionalism, accountability and oversight on the state level. It's something that needs to move forward.

ROSENBAUM: The final report is a product of roughly nine months of public hearings and other inquiries. The commission has no power to enact any of its recommendations. Many of the changes will need approval from a GOP-controlled legislature hesitant to embrace bills to overhaul law enforcement policies. For instance, one proposal would bring in the state attorney general to look into police-involved killings. It's an idea that's been criticized by a prominent Democrat. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch gained national attention for examining Brown's shooting death.

BOB MCCULLOCH: We elect prosecutors in the state of Missouri. And we elect them to do the job, and that includes investigating and prosecuting every case that should be prosecuted within that jurisdiction. And if you don't trust the prosecutor to do that, then don't elect them.

ROSENBAUM: Others worry the commission's bully pulpit isn't strong enough engender policy change, but commission members are optimistic. Commission manager Bethany Johnson-Javois says people who helped come up with the recommendations can follow through with them in individual police department, schools and communities.

BETHANY JOHNSON-JAVOIS: People are getting excited about the how to implement. And so that natural energy that has built up is what's already sustaining this beyond an individual or a leader or a commission.

ROSENBAUM: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon will help formally present the report later this afternoon. He says he'll use his last year in office to convince the legislature to adopt some of the commission's changes. But it's an open question if the general assembly will listen to him or if a divided community can come together. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis.

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