The title of this report is “Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity.”
We want to take a few moments to explain what we mean.
Clarifying Our Terms
“FORWARD THROUGH FERGUSON”
As with any organization that works closely together on serious issues, the Ferguson Commission has found itself coming back to several phrases again and again. One of those phrases has been, “The only way forward is through.”
By this we mean that if we are to move forward as a region, if we are to make true, long-term, sustainable progress, we can’t avoid our reality—we must confront it, and work through it. We believe that if we attempt to skirt the difficult truths, if we try to avoid talking about race, if we stop talking about Ferguson, as many in the region would like us to, then we cannot move forward. Progress is rarely simple, and it rarely goes in a straight line. But we are convinced that progress in the St. Louis region runs through Ferguson, and every issue that the phrase “Ferguson” now conjures.
Though some may be feeling “Ferguson fatigue,” we believe that Ferguson can, and should, represent a collective awakening to the issues that many in our region knew and understood, but for many others were invisible. Now they are not.
This new, shared sense of understanding calls us to a shared sense of responsibility, and also brings a shared sense of opportunity. What would a more just, a more unified, a more equitable St. Louis be capable of? We must use the energy and the urgency inspired by Ferguson to find out.
We have invested thousands of hours in researching, debating, and discussing the calls to action put forth in this report. Yet still, we cannot see the future.
Thus, we do not know for certain if these calls to action are the answer. We can’t. But they are what we believe to be the best starting point, the beginning of a path toward a better St. Louis.
We expect that as we travel, the path will change, and we’ll find ourselves navigating places we couldn’t have imagined. That is the nature of efforts like this. But there must be a starting point, and we believe, based on the work we have done, that this is the right starting point.
We are certainly open to the idea that we will uncover new routes and unexpected roadblocks. Our challenge is to keep moving, and to define the ultimate contours over time.
One thing we know for certain: this is not the easy path. That would be avoidance, and avoidance will get us no closer to racial equity. The path to racial equity demands time and persistence, risk and resources.
It is a path that we must travel together.
“TOWARD RACIAL EQUITY”
We know that talking about race makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
But make no mistake: this is about race.
In her 2010 book “Flak-Catchers: One Hundred Years of Riot Commission Politics in America,” author Lindsey Lupo examines five commissions that were appointed in response to race riots between 1919 and 1992. She argues that historically, these commissions are appointed to calm the public, and give the impression that the government is doing something—that they “give the appearance of action but are little more than a tool to maintain the status quo,” and that, “social and racial issues in the cities are not actually addressed by the commission” (Lupo, 2010).
Lupo says that past commissions focused on economic revitalization “to the exclusion of social issues, such as racial tension, segregation, and discrimination. It is as though the commissions are arguing that our society has moved beyond race, thus the problems must be purely economic. But race remains at the root of the violence, as evidenced by its very inception with every riot studied here being the result of white law enforcement harming a black civilian” (Lupo, 2010).
We have not moved beyond race.
St. Louis does not have a proud history on this topic, and we are still suffering the consequences of decisions made by our predecessors.
However, it’s important to understand that racial inequity in our region is not the same as individual racism. We are not pointing fingers and calling individual people racist. We are not even suggesting that institutions or existing systems intend to be racist.
What we are pointing out is that the data suggests, time and again, that our institutions and existing systems are not equal, and that this has racial repercussions. Black people in the region feel those repercussions when it comes to law enforcement, the justice system, housing, health, education, and income.
For example, at its extreme in the St. Louis region, life expectancy differs by nearly 40 years depending on zip code (Comprehensive Planning Division, 2015). In mostly White, suburban Wildwood, Missouri, the life expectancy is 91.4 years. In the mostly Black, inner-ring suburb of Kinloch, Missouri, life expectancy is just 55.9 years (Comprehensive Planning Division, 2015).
The law says all citizens are equal.
But the data says not everyone is treated that way.
The Power of Context
In conducting our work, we reviewed many thoroughly- researched investigative reports that already existed, examining the issues we were now focusing on. Some had a specific focus on St. Louis, while others were national in scope.
Yet as eye-opening as many of the findings in these reports were, the average St. Louisan had not heard of, let alone read them. Individually, these reports each reveal insight into a specific problem, and, in many cases, offer viable solutions. But individually, most of them fly well under the public’s radar.
Taken together, however, a clearer picture emerges. One of the great strengths of the Commission has been to put all of this information into a larger context, so that individual citizens and community leaders alike can make sense of it. One of the great opportunities of the Commission is to use the attention and the platform we have to create broad awareness of that larger context, and in doing so, ensure that those leaders understand that they must do something about it.
- Comprehensive Planning Division. Aging successfully in St. Louis County. St. Louis County. Retrieved from:http:// www.stlouisco.com/Portals/8/docs/document%20library/ AgeFriendly/FINAL_Aging_Successfully_Assessment.pdf
- Lupo, L. (2010). Flak-catchers:one hundred years of riot commission politics in America. Lexington Books
- Public Policy Research Center. (2015). An Equity Assessment of the St. Louis Region. University of Missouri-St. Louis Retrieved from http://pprc.umsl.edu/pprc.umsl.edu/data/ stl_equity_assessment_may2015.pdf