MO. Gov Jay Nixon Announces Ferguson Commission; Activists Respond
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has officially selected the 16 members, who will make up the newly formed Ferguson Commission, just ahead of the grand jury’s decision about whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
In a conference call last week, organized by PICO National Network, Rev. Traci D. Blackmon one of the newly appointed members of the Ferguson Commission, spoke about her hope for the Commission’s aim, which among other things, is to investigate and make legislative recommendations about the circumstances, which lead to the murder of 17-year-old Mike Brown.
“Out of these 16 members on the commission, as you can imagine, we all don’t think alike, we all don’t have the same experiences,” said Rev. Blackmon, who is also pastor of The King United Church of Christ just outside of Ferguson. “And there are going to be some difficult questions and difficult challenges ahead. And my commitment and the commitment of those I know personally – and I choose to believe the commitment of those I don’t even know – we will come out of this with a different legacy for Ferguson than we have currently.”
It was less than a month ago when Gov. Nixon signed into Executive Order the creation of this Commission. In statements made to the press, he charged the Commission to:
“First, to conduct a thorough, wide-ranging and unflinching study of the social and economic conditions underscored by the unrest in the wake of the death of Michael Brown
2. Second, to tap the expertise needed to address the concerns identified by the Commission – from poverty and education, to governance and law enforcement;
3. And third, to offer specific recommendations for making this region a stronger, fairer place for everyone to live.”
Rev. Blackmon said the Commission hasn’t even had its first meeting yet. However she does know that the Commission will be independent and that the recommendations it makes will be binding.
She also added, “The issues that brought us to situations that caused the killing of Michael Brown are not new issues. They are deeply embedded issues of race and educational inequalities and economic disparities – all things we study ad-nauseum and that we have known about for generations. What I hope this commission will do is help us bring some fresh eyes and fresh ears and fresh hands to this long standing issue.”
The co-chairs of the Commission are Rich McClure, is also the chair of the St. Louis Regional Board of Teach for America and Rev. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation. Other board members includes: Daniel Isom, director of Missouri Department of Public Safety and former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department chief; Scott Negwer, businessman and president, Negwer Material; Rose A. Windmiller, assistant vice chancellor, government and community relations at Washington University; Brittany N. Packnett, executive director of Teach for America in St. Louis; Bethany A. Johnson-Javois, CEO, St. Louis Integrated Health Network; Grayling Tobias former superintendent of Hazelwood School District; Becky James-Hatter, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri; Felicia Pulliam, Development director of a regional executive leadership program; Kevin Ahlbrand, veteran St. Louis police officer; Patrick Sly, Manager, representative from the Emerson Charitable Trust and T.R. Carr, Professor and former chair of the Department of Public Administration and Policy Analysis. The Commission’s lone youth activist is Rasheen Aldridge Jr., college student and director of Young Activist United St. Louis.
Blackmon said that the Ferguson Commission has until September 2015 to make a final report with all of its recommendations. However she said that in personal conversations with the co-chairs, there were some “low-hanging things” that they hope they could address prior to the deadline including changing certain policies and procedures of law enforcement. “The target for that is to have something done substantial that the community can see and respond to in the first 100 days,” she said.
She also made clear that the Ferguson Commission is not here to negate The People’s Commission, which was convened by grassroot group of activists to study the affects of police brutality on the community. Blackmon commended the youth protesters for “setting everything in motion” and said that the she hopes that both commissions can work in tandem with each other.
However, she also said the Ferguson Commission is not about changing hearts as it is changing behavior and that she is not interested in producing another report on a dusty shelf somewhere.
“We plan to do that by pushing through very aggressively legislation to change the way law enforcement acts, legislation that will hopefully level the playing field for our children in terms of academic pursuit is a very lofty progressive goal and we are going to do our best to make that happen,” she said.
She also said that if she finds out that the Commission isn’t what she believes it to be, she simply won’t remain on it. Youth activist and Ferguson protester Rika Tyler, who was also on the conference call, took a moment to congratulate everybody appointed to the Commission, however also noted the absence of young people.
Tyler also added, “Honestly I don’t trust anything that Gov Jay Nixon puts together.”
Rapper and activist Tef Poe, who was also on the conference call, cosigned Tyler sentiments, adding that while he believes some of the members, who he knows personally, are well-intentioned, he also believes that Gov. Nixon is passing responsibility onto the Commission when the buck stops at his office.
Tory Russell, co-founder Hands Up United, said that there are a couple of changes, which could happen right now without the Commission’s full report. More precisely, mandating the police give back weapons from the controversial federally-sponsored 1033 program, which sends excess military style weaponry to local police departments, and recusing Bob Mcculloch, St. Louis County prosecuting attorney overseeing the prosecution of Darren Wilson, who has personal family ties to the St. Louis police department.
“Those are the two policies that I know can be done today and right now. And it doesn’t take a lot of political power or pushing or nudging because the power is in Jay Nixon’s hands,” he said.