The violence this week surrounding the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death was a setback and temporarily overshadowed the progress our region has made in the last year. But, the criminal actions of a very small number of people will not stop people in our region from continuing to address the underlying racial disparities that face us, or from being encouraged by what we have already accomplished.
The vast majority of good-hearted St. Louisans now realize that our community has much work to do in the areas of race relations, education, community policing, socio-economics and public policy. We also recognize that these are not Ferguson problems, nor St. Louis problems. They are American problems. However, we have the accountability to find authentic St. Louis solutions to restoring trust and bridging the gaps between us.
On this, the week of the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, it’s important to reflect on the realities surrounding that tragic event as well as focus on the progress that has been made over the past year. Many corners of St. Louis are now working together to address the challenges – the public sector, law enforcement, businesses large and small, non-profits, clergy and community activists – engaging in honest public dialogue, working collaboratively with the broader community to understand justifiable grievances, proposing systemic change to restore trust, and making investments to improve the lives of underprivileged citizens.
In September, the Ferguson Commission is expected to recommend significant changes to policy, systems and practices that the rest of us can support and the rest of the country may want to emulate.
The U.S. Department of Justice, Better Together, and the Police Executive Research Forum have closely examined our policing practices, identifying real solutions including many proposed recommendations to improve public safety outcomes. These include straightforward measures such as cross-deputizing City and County police officers, the establishment of regional hiring, training and use-of-force standards, and more complex solutions such as department mergers.
St. Louis companies large and small have already invested millions of dollars so that more minority students can get a good education and the skills they need to find a job and a career.
As we build bridges among diverse parties and bring people from all walks of life together, our focus is and will remain on building a stronger community for all. We must learn and grow from these experiences.
Our community’s situation is fluid. We are encouraged by the strong local leadership from St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, and strong national leadership from U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who condemned Sunday’s violence in Ferguson as obscuring "any message of peaceful protest." We also want to acknowledge the vast majority of protesters who were peaceful, and thank the police officers who worked so hard to keep everyone -- including the protesters -- safe.
People ask us all the time what the violence surrounding Ferguson will do to St. Louis’ national reputation. In the short run, it will hurt us. In the long run, St. Louis will overcome if we are steadfast, unbowed by setbacks like Sunday night’s, work together for positive change, and live up to the principles of equal opportunity and equal justice. Be assured, for the good of our region and because it's the right thing, the St. Louis Regional Chamber is committed to be in it for the long haul.