On Tuesday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon–who has been heavily criticized for his response to the murder of Mike Brown and subsequent police treatment of protesters–announced the creation of the Ferguson Commission, an ad-hoc committee of St. Louis-area leaders charged with studying the underlying issues raised by more than 100 days of social unrest in Ferguson.
“These sixteen men and women bring to the table a rich diversity of life experience and points of view – business owners and not-for-profit leaders; teachers and lawyers; police officers and activists; pastors and public servants,” said Gov. Nixon.
The day before announcing the commission, Nixon declared a state of emergency in Missouri and activated the National Guard, in preparation for the Grand Jury to announce whether Officer Darren Wilson will be tried for the murder of 18-year old Mike Brown. If Wilson is not indicted, he will return to active duty, policing the streets of Ferguson, where tensions between police and residents remain high.
Protesters insist that they will engage in peaceful action, whether Wilson is indicted or not, to express their active commitment to upending racist policing tactics. Most believe Wilson will not be indicted. Many, including St. Louis-area police forces, are predicting and preparing for widespread violence.
“We’ve got heavy lifting to do as a region. And we’ve got to do it together,” said Rev. Starksy Wilson, commission co-chair and former host to the Labor Day Weekend #Black Life Matters ride, which brought more than 300 activists from around the country to the area for protests. He adds, “It is indeed progress that people in this group were not chosen in spite of dedicated service in law enforcement, but because of it. Others of us are at the table not in spite of our actions of patriotic protest, but because of them. Inasmuch as our voices are independent, our future is interdependent.”
Out of more than 300 applications, the Governor appointed the following St. Louis-area residents to serve on the Ferguson Commission:
● Rev. Starsky Wilson, CEO of the Deaconess Foundation and pastor at St. Johns UCC;
● Rich McClure, former president and COO of the Unigroup;
● Rev. Traci Blackmon, Pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ;
● Dan Isom II, Director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety;
● Scott Negwar, President of Negwar Materials in Ferguson;
● Bethany Johnson-Javois, CEO of the St. Louis Integrated Health Network;
● Gabriel E. Gore, attorney and partner at the law firm of Dowd Bennett, LLC;
● Brittany Packnett, Executive Director of Teach for America;
● Rose Windmiller, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Government and Community Relations at Washington University;
● Rasheen Aldridge, Jr., community organizer and Director of Young Activists United;
● Grayling Tobias, Superintendent of Hazelwood School District;
● Becky James-Hatter, President and CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri;
● Felicia Pulliam, Director of Development for FOCUS St. Louis;
● Kelvin Ahlbrand, Detective Sergeant with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and President of the Missouri State Fraternal Order of Police;
● Patrick Sly, Executive Vice President, Emerson;
● T. R. Carr, Jr., Professor of Public Administration at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
“Primarily, I hope the commission will lead to the restoration of hope.” said Rev. Blockman, an affiliate of the Don’t Shoot Coalition and pastor of a church that will serve as a safe space to protesters when the Grand Jury announcement is made. “Hope born out of dialogue and action designed to effectively dismantle institutionalized racism, which is buried at the heart of the social, economic, and racial segregation that is present in our communities.”
The commission will be responsible for issuing a report with policy recommendations by September 15, 2015, but will not be responsible for investigating specific instances of alleged police misconduct. The demographic breakdown for the 16-member group is 10 men, 6 women; 9 African Americans; 6 Caucasians. All meetings will be open to the public.
“The Ferguson Commission is only part of the solution, but through this work I hope to continue to speak truth about the value of the lives of Black children and amplify the voices of the Ferguson activist and protester community — of which I have been fortunate to become a part,” stated Brittany Packnett, Executive Director of Teach for America and convener of the weekly Ferguson Fireside conference call, a space where protestors offer real-time updates and access points for activism. Packnett continues: “The dignity of human life is not negotiable, and I hope to operate with integrity and clarity of purpose in pursuing solutions that preserve dignity for every one of the citizens of my hometown.”
Katina Parker is a filmmaker, photographer, and activist. To follow her documentation work in Ferguson go to www.facebook.com/dontshootsof. To receive updates about her Virtual Freedom School, a space where theory meets action, go to www.facebook.com/virtfreeschool and follow her on Twitter – @katinaparker.