Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Letter to the Ferguson Commission

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Letter to the Ferguson Commission

Article excerpt

Dear Rev. Starsky Wilson,

First of all, thank you for your willingness to serve on this commission and to co-chair it. You have a tremendous opportunity to effect significant change in Ferguson and the St. Louis region.

Secondly, I commend you and the commission members for getting in front of the tables rather than sitting behind them and for using small groups to listen to people.

Thirdly, I offer you some ideas and suggestions based on years of experience in working to effect social change:

1. If you do not live in Ferguson or an adjoining community, I suggest you move there for the time that you serve on the commission. This will allow you to listen to and to speak from the perspective of someone close to Ferguson residents. You will then regard Ferguson residents as subjects rather than objects. Most social change falters on this point because people from the outside look at an area as an object and make suggestions without ever having lived the experience of those who live there. Quite naturally and correctly the people perceive that they are being treated as objects rather than subjects. (A subject here means someone who acts; an object, someone acted upon.) See Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (

2. Resist the temptation to find the "silver bullet" (pun intended) or the "magic answer." Most of the ideas that come from this type of thinking represent first order change; that is, change within a system in which the rules governing the system remain unchanged. There are numerous examples of this, all of which can be summed up in the metaphor of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Having body cameras on police officers and hiring more blacks as police officers are examples of first order change. This type of change has its place. However, what needs to be addressed following the events in Ferguson requires second order change; that is, change in the rules governing how a system functions. This type of change is represented by the 9-dot puzzle. If you are not familiar with this see puzzle.

3. "If you want peace, work for justice," wrote Pope Paul VI. …

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