ST. LOUIS, Mo.—Missouri Governor Jay Nixon took to the stage at the Missouri History Museum on Tuesday to formally launch the Ferguson Commission against a backdrop of growing tension over the impending grand jury announcement.
“The issues raised in Ferguson touch all of our communities,” said Nixon to a jam-packed auditorium of youth, community leaders, activists, local and federal politicians, and the world’s media. “To maintain the status quo is just not acceptable.”
The 16-member commission is comprised of educators, law enforcement officials, business owners and other community leaders. They will spend the next year on an agenda aimed at implementing, in Nixon’s words, “concrete changes.” Among their goals will be a report by next September to address the issues of racial inequity raised in the aftermath of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in August.
A Final Plea
After introducing the council members one by one to the audience, signing the executive order to authorize their work, and swearing the members in, the governor made one final plea to the public.
“The choices we make in troubled times are the true expression of our humanity,” he said.
Nixon’s appeal for peace and calm came just as St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay sent a letter to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s public safety committee Tuesday, saying that 400 National Guard troops will be deployed around the city. They will not be used to interact with protesters, but will instead be put into place to “prevent random acts of violence, property destruction, looting or other criminal activity,” according to the letter.
The troops will be stationed at 45 locations throughout the city, with police officers.
Rev. Starsky Wilson, who will co-chair the commission with Rich McClure, said that they are committed “to listening more than we talk.”
“We have heavy lifting to do,” he said. Wilson, who is CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, added afterward that all commission members want things in their community to be different.
“I think our greatest hope is that we can develop a specific set of policy recommendations that lead to long-term change.” He added that for him personally the commission is also about addressing racial equity. “I’m excited, but I’m daunted.”
Community leaders and activists present at the commission launch were thinking in more immediate terms, though.
One woman affiliated with a local justice coalition who asked not to be identified said she was unhappy with the members of the commission because she hasn’t seen any of them involved in activist work in the past months.
St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who has served as an unofficial voice on behalf of the black community, was also eager to see more immediate resolutions.
“I worry because I believe a lot of the statements that have come out have made people more fearful,” said French. “I think fear has a bad effect.”
The grand jury decision over whether to indict Officer Wilson in the shooting death of Brown has yet to be announced, and could come at any time before November 30. Officials, and Governor Nixon in particular, have faced sharp criticism over activating the National Guard and warning the public to maintain peaceful order.
French said that the concerns of many black St. Louis County residents are real, despite the impression of many white residents that all is well.
“We are so separated racially and it is possible for people to have different St. Louis experiences,” he said. “The African-American experience in St. Louis is one that is less successful economically, there’s a higher rate of victims of crime, a higher rate of victims of police, and less opportunity.”
Though French said these inequities “should not be tolerated” he remains optimistic about what lies ahead.
“I am hopeful. I think for them to hear the message of the protesters is inevitable.”