Some say “too late,” others see hope in Ferguson Commission

FERGUSON, Mo. – Tuesday afternoon, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced the formation of a 16-member Ferguson Commission. While some in the community here see the move as “too little, too late” others see it as cause for some hope.

Executive Order 14-15 states that the purpose of the commission is to study the, “social and economic conditions that impede progress, equality, and safety in the St. Louis region” in response to “the unrest and public discourse set in motion by the events of Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri.” 

Mark Esters, president of the St. Louis chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, recognizes the Ferguson Commission as an attempt by Gov. Nixon to reach out to the community, but “whether or not he will do anything about it [the findings of the commission] is another thing entirely.”

The governor had been widely criticized after the killing of Michael Brown for being too slow to act and for not firmly supporting the democratic right of people in the community to voice their protests.

Esters spoke frankly when asked his opinion about the recent actions of the Governor’s office: “He is acting too late. These things have been going on throughout his term. It took a police officer killing an unarmed black teenager for him to do anything.”

Many of the issues underlying the frustration of people in Ferguson and in surrounding towns have been problematic throughout the governor’s term. The police practice of levying exhorbitant fines and issuing warrants for minor traffic offenses, for example, has been a source of  public anger for years. Those policies, in particular, along with others, have made it next to impossible for black people to become part of the police and other public services.

There has also been anger over the governor’s failure to name a special prosecutor in the case, leaving the prosecutorial work to Robert McCullogh, the district attorney who many believe had more than enough cause but failed to file charges against the police officer who killed Brown. McCullogh decided, instead, to go the route of a dragged-out grand jury process.

CBTU was one of the first labor organizations to stand with the Ferguson community and demand justice. Over the past three months, unions like CWA and SEIU have also committed themselves to the fight in Ferguson against institutional racism and police violence. CBTU remains committed to the struggle in Ferguson because, as Esters explains, “our core interests are economic justice for minority communities and social justice for those communities left out of the political process.”

Like Esters, Rev. Teresa Danieley’s reaction to Gov. Nixon’s Ferguson Commission is deeply nuanced. The rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Danieley quickly cuts to the core: “There is no state entity that is going to solve racial and economic injustice; that is something the people must do.” She does see the commission as an opportunity for people, “to build relationships across the divides of race, gender, and age.” She is hopeful that if the commission successfully mends those divides that “perhaps that can be a model for other communities.”

The formation of the Ferguson Commission follows Nixon’s decision to mobilize the National Guard on Monday. While the streets of Ferguson have been comparatively quiet as of late, the declaration of a state of emergency as a “precaution” in case of “expanded unrest” echoes the provocative police crackdowns on peaceful protesters that defined the first days of the struggle for justice in Ferguson. 

When asked about this development, Esters says “the community feels like it is too early considering the protests have been peaceful.” Esters, his voice bright with derision, says calling in the National Guard, “tells me that militarizing the community is his [Nixon’s] best response.”

Rev. Danieley, on the other hand, finds some hope in the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency thanks to the number of people who are contacting his office and asking him to assign a special prosecutor, something well within his power to do in a state of emergency. As a person of faith, Teresa Danieley prays for Ferguson, “I pray for deep and meaningful peace: not a peace of convenience, but peace because justice has been achieved.”

Photo: Ferguson Commission is to grapple, among other things, with the underlying causes of the problems in Ferguson, including the overreaction to peaceful protesters by the police. Jeff Roberson/AP


James Raines
James Raines

The late James Raines was a life-long union worker, a union organizer with the Communications Workers of America, and a proud member of CWA's Media Guild. Writing articles for People's World from 2011 through 2014, Raines covered the Occupy movement in Memphis, demands for LGBT rights in Tennessee, the struggles of the Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi, and the protests for justice in Ferguson, Missouri.