Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Ferguson 3 Years on. Moving Forward in an Era of Tribal Divisions

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Ferguson 3 Years on. Moving Forward in an Era of Tribal Divisions

Article excerpt

In the three years since Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, perhaps the most significant date was last Nov. 8. Donald Trump was elected president, and Ferguson-inspired discussions about racial equity and abusive police practices took an abrupt turn.

Tribal divisions that manifested themselves after Aug. 9, 2014 cops can do no wrong, cops can do no right began to harden, and in some cases, became institutionalized.

The president himself on July 28 endorsed "rough" police tactics and the use of military equipment by police forces, two issues that inflamed the protests in Ferguson. "We have your backs 100 percent," he told a law enforcement gathering on Long Island. "Not like the old days. Not like the old days."

This is absurd. The percentage of Americans who told the Gallup organization that they had a great deal of respect for police officers rose 12 points in the last year of President Barack Obama's administration. Numbers were up among whites and nonwhites alike.

Good cops know that black lives matter and blue lives, too. They know the difference between a cop who shoots someone in a dangerous situation and a badly trained cop who panics. They know that streets can be policed effectively while protecting constitutional rights. This is not a zero-sum game.

At Ferguson Year 3, the national perspective matters. It matters more what happens closer to home. The St. Louis region and the state of Missouri have taken a few tentative steps to address the issues that erupted three years ago after being allowed to fester for decades. Other opportunities have been missed.

The Ferguson incident was, above all, a police shooting of an unarmed black man, with all the complications that entailed. But the second level was why Darren Wilson stopped Michael Brown for walking down the middle of the street in the first place.

Ferguson exposed the shameful collaboration between St. Louis County's 81 municipal courts and its dozens of police departments. It wasn't exactly a secret that small municipalities, no longer capable of funding basic services with tax dollars, were using ordinance violations to gin up operating revenue. This was a function of municipal fragmentation, St. Louis' original sin.

Those targeted were most often minorities and poor people. It took Brown's death, weeks of protests and national embarrassment to prompt change.

The Missouri Legislature responded admirably, passing Senate Bill 5 in 2015 to impose minimum standards on municipal courts and put a 20 percent cap on how much city revenue could be raised from court fines. In St. Louis County, the cap was set at 12.5 percent.

Twelve county municipalities protested that they were being unfairly singled out. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed, leaving the cap at 20 percent statewide. …

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