O’Fallon Park – Four years after the death of Michael Brown Jr. and the Ferguson Uprising, the St. Louis region is still dealing with the effects of racial inequity. At the O’Fallon Park Rec Complex, St. Louisans gathered to see how far we have come and how far we have to go.
“Hearing unbiased facts is required so we can make informed decisions and arrive at our truth. Much of my political conversation with friends and family is questioning what they accept as true. Sometimes I’m wrong and sometimes they are,”said Helen Sloan who attended the Forward Through Ferguson community meeting at the O’Fallon Park Rec Complex on Oct. 10.
Community members from the St. Louis region gathered at the rec center to hear the progress of the Forward Through Ferguson (FTF) initiative. The FTF initiative is a governor appointed mission that started in December of 2014, four months after the shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. and the Ferguson Uprising. The Ferguson Uprising came after former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was cleared of all civil rights charges from the Ferguson Justice Department after the shooting death of Brown. Protesters and activist took to the streets to express their anger and hurt, days of unrest led to violence and looting. Once taking a closer look at the social and economic disadvantages that many poor and people of color face in our region the initiative hopes to bring racial equity for all St. Louisans.
Sloan traveled from south St. Louis County and had the opportunity to put the work she does with Metropolitan Congregations United into perspective. In retirement, Sloan is working on breaking the school-to-prison pipeline with MCU, juvenile justice reform and decreasing out of school suspensions.
Sloan says she’s been working through her church to increase the awareness and the importance of racial equity. She believes there is momentum and the time is now to push forward with the work the Forward Through Ferguson organization is doing. When most are traveling or catching up on hobbies during retirement, Sloan spends her time working on policy change.
Karishma Furtado of FTF, spoke to about 30 people on policy changes, action items to look forward to and those that need more work.
According to Rebecca Bennett, Co- Chair of FTF, during the aftermath of the Ferguson Uprising, educators, police enforcement, clergy and a variety of community members helped develop the Call To Action (CTA) items of the report. Of the 189 CTA items 47 have been identified in the Forward Through Ferguson report as ‘mission critical,’ which means these items are more urgent and have transformational potential. Bennett said having transformational potential can help push along the other 142 CTA items.
Bennett said five of the 47 ‘mission critical’ items have been achieved and implemented: An update on the Use of Force Statute for Fleeing Suspects, an increase in police training hours, concentration on financial services through Empowerment Sites, identified priority transportation projects for the St Louis region and creation of an education hub.
“This is one of the ways we hold our region to account, to live into the work and to do it,” said Bennett.
Lt. Perri Johnson of the St. Louis City Police Department and board member of FTF spoke from the perspective of law enforcement. He said he wants to be a liaison between law enforcement and community and lean how the police department can maximize community engagement, and FTF gave him that space where to hone in on the community needs and transfer that information to other officers.
Since becoming a member of the board, Johnson has implemented smaller initiatives such as ‘Park and Walk,” in which officers park their patrol vehicle and walk the neighborhood, handing out teddy bears and stickers and talking with community members of the neighborhood. He also added ‘Cops Cuts and Conversations’ where law enforcement meet at barbershops and allow patrons to talk about problems that are affecting them and their neighborhood.
Some of the information that was presented included how economics has a vital role when it comes to racial equity and the wealth as a region and how it affects our economy? According to economist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis Public Policy Research Center, estimated that in 2012, the St. Louis region lost $13.6 billion in Gross Domestic Product because of the racial income gap.
“If we don’t get this right now, the cost of this is something we’ve never seen before. We have to make enough progress, where we don’t end up in this space, where it is taking an increasing amount of force and violence to enforce systems that are unfair,” said Bennet.
Economic hurdles are amongst many of the challenges that FTF face and try to implement into change on a local and state level. Local initiatives like ‘Raise the Wage and #ShowMe15 were successful in helping St.Louis raise the minimum to $10.10, however, according to David Dwight, Senior Strategy & Partnerships Catalyst at Forward Through Ferguson the state pre-empted and invalidated the local law and put the wage back to $7.35.
To read the Forward Through Ferguson report, go to: https://forwardthroughferguson.org/stateofthereport/