Anniversary Of Brown’s Death Prompts Calls For Political Engagement, Demands For Wilson's Arrest
On Tuesday's one-month anniversary of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, some local leaders focused on ways to move forward, while Brown's family called again for answers in the investigation.
Local elected leaders representing the Ferguson area came together Tuesday to discuss strategies to heal after the unrest that shook the city for more than two weeks in August following Brown's death.
The Ferguson United leadership team said it hopes to empower residents and educate them on the role of government, how to hold elected officials more accountable, and how to become leaders in their own community. The group includes: State Rep. Courtney Curtis, Ferguson Township Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes, St. Louis County Council Chair Hazel Erby, State Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, State Rep. Sharon Pace, and Ferguson Councilman Dwayne James.
Bynes said the leadership team will hold weekly community meetings on Thursday evenings at Greater St. Mark Family Church to encourage residents to get involved. The team will create a "Leadership Academy" to "groom residents" for elected positions, according to a press release.
"I never want to see anyone feel like the only time they can feel powerful is by rioting," Bynes said. "I want everybody to know they can get involved politically, they can get on boards to know that they have a voice."
Councilwoman Erby said it was especially important to identify leaders among young people. She said training classes would teach youth about the role of government and how they can participate.
The leadership team also announced a job fair in conjunction with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis for this weekend. It's also scheduled a teen summit for September 26 and a teen festival for October 12, which will feature Ferguson native and UFC fighter Tyron Woodley.
Calls for action and an arrest
Rep. Curtis said he recognizes that while some are ready to heal and move forward, others are not.
At another press conference, the Ferguson National Action Network, local clergy, Michael Brown’s family and their attorney once again called for the arrest of Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Brown on Aug. 9 and remains on administrative leave.
Michael Brown’s family attorney, Anthony Gray, said there is sufficient evidence provided by multiple witnesses to arrest Wilson.
“The guy should have been arrested. He should have been booked. He should have been fingerprinted and he should have been photographed and that’s all we are saying," Gray said. "That should have happened and it didn’t, and we are saying let’s get it right now.”
Gray's call for action echoed concerns addressed by the Rev. Al Sharpton in a recent Huffington Post piece.
Beyond demanding Wilson’s arrest, organizers also said police officers should not receive special treatment. Pastor and Ferguson National Action Network president Carlton Lee said there needs to be a change.
"Either we need to redefine what probable cause means and say that police are not subject to it, or we arrest officers right away, just as we would with any other person accused of committing a crime," Lee said.
Federal and state prosecutors are investigating the case. The grand jury is expected to make a decision on whether Wilson will be indicted by mid-October.
Changes for Ferguson
Still other community organizers spent the day responding to an announcement by the Ferguson City Council that it would consider changes to the police and municipal court systems at its meeting Tuesday night.
The proposals include: adding a citizen review board, eliminating certain offenses and fees, and limiting court fine revenues. They have been met with cautious optimism by some elected officials and community leaders.
Bynes called the proposed measures a "good first start."
"I know that there's a question in the community: How can they kind of oversee themselves? That's the question: accountability," she said.
Others were more skeptical of the proposals. Mervyn Marcano from the group Hands Up United says a press release alone won't change excessive court fines.
"Folks are living in modern day debtors' prisons and we need to address that," he said.
Michael McPherson of the Don't Shoot Coalition says he wants to ensure the proposed citizen review board has real power, including: financial independence from the city; the ability to subpoena; and the right to review policies, procedures and complaints against officers.
"There are many ways a civilian review board can be ineffective but there are only a few ways to get it right," he said.
St. Louis University law professor Brendan Roediger called the proposed changes "progress" that the people of Ferguson got done, but he said more details are needed. He also reiterated a call for amnesty for non-violent municipal offenses, such as traffic offenses, as a way for the community to start fresh.