Last night (Tuesday) the city of Ferguson held the second of what is projected to be a series of Town Halls motivated by the recent unrest in the city. Two meetings were held, one at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Ferguson and another at the First Baptist Church of Ferguson. They were mediated by representatives of the Justice Department and only citizens of Ferguson were admitted. ID was checked by police at the door and no media representatives were permitted.
Based on the TV reportage that I saw on St. Louis Fox2Now, one might conclude that thanks to the meetings everything is beginning to come up roses. Attendees were quoted as saying that this meeting was more “civil,” “most every one was respectful,” with “only a couple of emotional shouts.” According to reports, emotions were running high at previous town halls which I understand might have been distressing to many present.
This set of town hall meetings were meant to deal with issues of communication. An important topic. However, the account in this morning’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggested that while the folks that were attending were happy with the tenor of the meetings and came away feeling better, the actual communication that took place may have been less than optimal. It seems that fewer folks came to the meetings, and it seems that those few were not the folks who are nursing the biggest sense of grievance; one attendee noted that the meeting was “three-quarters filled with white residents,” while the group at Our Lady of Guadalupe were by all reports “overwhelmingly white and older:
“There’s a disconnect in there [i.e. at the First Baptist Church meeting],” Phillip G. Duvall, 51, said. “Look at the demographics. There are three black men. About eight African-American mothers and grandmothers. Almost all of us are over the age of 30 – there are two teenagers.
“There’s nobody there to represent the fury and the anger …” he added. “The people they need at the meeting are absent.”
And that’s the sound of the hammer hitting the nail on the head. I’m sure the meeting was reassuring to many citizens who were shocked by the reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown and that’s an important outcome – especially since many of those quoted seem to be people of genuine good will. But if they aren’t part of these town hall discussions, how is the town planning to deal with the folks who are enraged by the actual shooting and by their experience of African-American life in Ferguson ?
I understand why the meetings are restricted to Ferguson residents (though not why media were barred), but I wonder how many of the angry souls who need to be part of the solution – because they are the ones affected most by the problem – were put off by Ferguson police, not exactly trusted players, checking ID’s at the door? Just asking. I might be wrong, but I’m willing to bet that nobody is going to find out where the problems are without the participation of some of those rowdy, perhaps less than civil, deeply enraged and engaged folks who have been out on the streets night after night. That won’t happen if they don’t feel confident about the process – and safe about taking part.
Maybe also, if there’s to be a meaningful outcome, somebody official has to put up some earnest money, figuratively speaking. As one attendee put it:
“As an African-American, we’re tired of hearing talk. We want to see action,” she said. “On the other hand, we need to find out where the problems are, so we can correct them.”
A little real “action” might be just the lubricant needed to inspire trust. And an excellent place to have started would have been to replace of St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch and appoint someone else to oversee the case. The perception of bias on McCulloch’s part is so overwhelming that, even were he totally evenhanded – which even to me from my distant perch in West County seems unlikely – any inquiries that he oversees will necessarily be too tainted to inspire the trust that is essential if there is to be a meaningful resolution of the issues surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown.
From what I’ve read about McCulloch, he comes off like a wannabe John Wayne in a situation that requires not only integrity but circumspection. Nobody needs McCulloch’s tough-guy act gumming up the works. If people are sincere about change and about addressing the events of Ferguson, getting McCulloch out of Dodge might be just the way to set the right tone. McCulloch is on the record saying that if Governor Nixon wants him to step down, Nixon ought to “man up” and take him off the case. Probably true, but if McCulloch had any concern about producing a reliable, trusted outcome in an explosive situation, he’d be the one to “man-up” and recuse himself. Don’t good people try to make things better, not worse? Doesn’t the heroic tradition honor the act of falling on one’s sword for the greater good?
Of course, there’s the alternative. Lots more feel-good meetings with fewer and fewer, but very well-behaved citizens talking with great sincerity about the all too real problems of Ferguson. Remember all the high-profile, often televised town-halls and panel discussions that took place in the aftermath of Sandy Hook? And what did we get? More guns and even more lenient gun laws. I’m not a citizen of Ferguson, but if I were, I know I’d be insisting that they “show me the money” before I put much stock in efforts to use talk therapy to calm me down.