What this Report is… And What it is Not
The People’s Report … Not a Typical Commission Report
First and foremost, this is the “people’s report.” What do we mean by that?
Our primary audience for this report is the people of the St. Louis region. The report is directed to the average citizens whose daily lives are affected by the issues we explored, and whose lives will be impacted by the calls to action we make. With that in mind, we have written this report to speak to an audience of average citizens— not lawyers, legislators, academics, politicians, or policy wonks.
We’ve written this report in plain language as much as possible. We’ve avoided jargon when we could, and tried to explain the jargon we used when we couldn’t avoid it. Our goal is to present this important information in a way that anyone can understand.
We recognize and have heard citizen feedback that official documents produced by commissions like ours can be written in a way that is hard for the average citizen to understand, and a chore to read.
It will take the application of public pressure to ensure that we push forward, and not just ease back into the status quo.
We have tried to make this report readable and interesting. If it’s interesting and easy to read, you’re more likely to read more of it—and we want you to read it. The more this report is read, the stronger the actions toward implementation will be. If we hide important ideas behind stuffy language, or bury key information, we would be disrespectful to the people who invested their time and energy into the work, and worse, we would be diminishing the importance of what we were charged to do.
That said, as you go deeper into the report platform, you may notice that the information does get more dense and complicated. While our focus is on speaking to the people, we also know that this platform must be detailed and specific enough to be useful in directly impacting policy decisions. We have tried to keep these sections clear and readable, while meeting the needs of multiple audiences.
A Study of Underlying Issues … Not an Investigation of an Incident
This report is not in any way an investigation of what happened between Michael Brown Jr. and Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, nor is it an investigation of the response to the uprising that followed. Other bodies have been responsible for those investigations.
Consistent with our charge, this report is a “a wide- ranging, in-depth study of the underlying issues brought to light by the events in Ferguson.” In other words, we have looked at a wide variety of factors—social, political, historic, economic, educational, and racial, among them—that contributed to the climate in which those events occurred.
Some of the things we look at may at first seem unrelated to the events in Ferguson. However, our work and the community feedback has shown that these factors have either a direct or indirect connection to the environment in the St. Louis region, and therefore must be considered when discussing any potential changes that might lead to progress.
A Narrative … Not a List of Policy Recommendations
While there are indeed many policy calls to action across this site—in total, there are 189—this report is not simply a list of policy recommendations.
We have tried to construct a narrative that takes these policy calls to action, which can often be very detailed, very data-driven, and somewhat abstract, and put them into a larger, more human context. The report aims to put a face on the calls to action, and to help you, the reader, see how the current state of affairs, and potential changes in policy, affect you and your neighbors. Ultimately, we want you to understand not only what is recommended, but also why it matters—and what it means for you.
We also want to help you see the connections that link these issues. Sometimes these are obvious, but often they are not. Too many of the issues examined here have been addressed in isolation for too long. When issues are addressed as if they are not connected, we as a region miss opportunities for collaboration, cooperation, and creative problem-solving. This report seeks to place our region’s challenges in a larger context, highlight the connections between them, and encourage the partnerships, alliances, and actions that will be necessary to make lasting change.
The Outline of a Path … Not an Implementation Plan
As a Commission, we were given a broad charge, but limited time to explore these issues and develop calls to action. Though we accomplished a significant amount of work in that time, engaging a tremendous number of citizens and exploring issues in depth, the timeframe dictated the level of detail we could provide. Moreover, there is a limit to the influence over decision-making that we as a Commission can have. No matter how sound our calls to action, they are calls—the Commission does not have the power to enact them.
This means that while this report includes many specific policy calls to action, it is not an implementation plan. Implementation may require legislation, policy changes, funding, public support, private support, or in most cases, a combination of these. Some calls to action identify half a dozen accountable bodies or more. Each individual or organization has a role in making these changes a reality.
What this means is that this report does not spell out step-by-step solutions, or answer questions about how proposed solutions will be funded. Those things are beyond our scope, as the Commission’s charge was to identify needed changes and call on those accountable for that change to act.
To soften the edges, to try to polish up the rough spots and to just present the stories and statistics that put St. Louis in a positive light, would be a disservice to those citizens who spoke up, and even more so, a disservice to the future of the region.
Thus, the report provides the outline of a path forward. The report and the calls to action it includes are meant to serve as a springboard—as a way to initiate conversations and action around these urgent topics challenging our region.
The Beginning of the Work … Not the End of the Discussion
This report is not meant to be the end of the discussion. It is not meant to provide the definitive, final answer, on any of these topics. It is meant to raise questions and offer important, community-informed calls to action on these topics. It is meant to identify resources, voices, and perspectives that should be considered when discussing these topics. And it is meant to spark extensive, nuanced, and in-depth conversations about the issues explored here, as well as the collective action to address them.
In “Flak-Catchers:One Hundred Years of Riot Commission Politics in America,” Lindsey Lupo also offers a critique of commissions, particularly the later ones:“Recent […] commissions are far less prominent, recognizable, or even known than their predecessors. [They] are rarely discussed publicly and garner little media attention. The result is that public pressure is eliminated and any recommendations that are made stand little chance of implementation …” (Lupo, 2010).
Though the Ferguson Commission differs in several substantive ways from the commissions Lupo studied, it does share similarities. Understanding those similarities, we have made it our goal that these findings and these calls to action will be discussed and debated publicly. The measure of success is not how well-researched or how well-written the report is. The measure of success is how much people engage with the report, because if the people engage with it—discuss, debate, and argue about it—there is a much greater chance that the calls to action presented here will be implemented. It will take the application of public pressure to ensure that we push forward, and not just ease back into the status quo.
Unflinching … Not Just a Tour of the Bright Spots
This report is also a hard look at some hard truths. It is confronting our reality.
Governor Jay Nixon’s executive order establishing the Ferguson Commission stated:“[T]he unrest and public discourse set in motion by the events of August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri underscore the need for a thorough, wide-ranging and unflinching study of the social and economic conditions that impede progress, equality and safety in the St. Louis region.”
So often when we talk about our region’s struggles, we flinch. We avoid talking about race, or poverty, or other factors that might make us uncomfortable, even though addressing those issues head-on is what is needed to move forward.
The Ferguson Commission has embraced the call to be “unflinching.”
For us, being unflinching has meant confronting the reality of our region. It has meant getting comfortable with some very uncomfortable data—data that highlights harsh facts about St. Louis.
This has also meant listening, often uncomfortably, to the personal stories shared by citizens who came to our open meetings, and by people we interviewed throughout the process of developing this report. Some of the stories people shared were uplifting and inspiring. But many were frustrating, depressing, infuriating, deflating, and heart-wrenching.
We are committed to honoring those stories, and facing those truths, throughout our work and in this report. To soften the edges, to try to polish up the rough spots and to just present the stories and statistics that put St. Louis in a positive light, would be a disservice to those citizens who spoke up, and even more so, a disservice to the future of the region. If we are to move forward, it’s going to happen by confronting our reality, and moving forward through it.
Why Digital First?
Why are we focusing primarily on the digital presentation versus a traditional printed report?
There are several reasons why this report is designed with digital presentation at the forefront. First, it was important to the Commission that readers be able to engage with the content.
Because the report is being presented digitally, it’s not frozen in time. It can be updated to reflect new research, to connect you with additional resources that emerge to address these issues, and to provide progress updates on these issues and corresponding recommendations as residents engage and things change
Our goal from the beginning has been to make this the “people’s report.” Releasing this report digitally makes it accessible to you wherever you are, and lets you engage with it whenever you have a moment—riding the MetroLink, walking the dog, taking a short break. This is increasingly how people interact with information, and we wanted the report to lend itself to this new reality.
We also knew that if we wanted to increase the likelihood that people would engage with the report, we needed to make it easy for people to share sections that were exciting to them. Presenting the report digitally makes it easy for you to share content that interests you in a variety of ways.
Our hope is that when you come across a section that makes you say, “Wow, I didn’t know that,” your next thought will be to think of someone who should know about it, and share it with them, with a note that says, “Hey, you should check this out,” or “See, this is what I’ve been saying!”
So many people today learn about new things via their various inboxes and feeds, and we value news and information that comes to us via our friends and trusted networks. By presenting the report digitally first, and empowering readers with social sharing tools, we hope to increase the likelihood that more people will read, engage with, and share the report. Encouraging social sharing opens a pathway for ongoing dialogue, debate, and community problem solving.
If we had released a traditional report, we would have increased the likelihood that the findings would simply sit on a shelf gathering dust. By releasing the report digitally, we’ve made sure that it stays alive, and will grow and evolve based on your engagement with it.
Much of the reason that Ferguson became a national and international news story so quickly was because people shared what was happening via social media, and social media has undoubtedly changed the shape of modern activism. The shareability we’ve built into this site is an acknowledgement of that seismic shift.
As you read this report, we want you to feel a sense of control over your reading experience—and a sense that you are a part of the Commission’s work. That’s because you are.
To make the most of this report, don’t just read—click. Click to explore a topic in more detail. Click to see the way different issues are connected, and click to make your own connections. Maybe the details of municipal court reform don’t interest you, but you care deeply about education. Or maybe you’ve been hearing all about municipal court reform, and want to learn more about how it connects to law enforcement. Having the information in the report in a digital format gives you the power to easily navigate to find more of what matters to you.
It also encourages discovery. As you read, you’ll see that this report is heavily linked throughout. Maybe you’re a linear reader, and you want to read this report as if it were a typical document. But if you’re like many modern readers, you’ll find it easy to click around, follow interesting links, and make your own connections.
Releasing this report digitally makes it accessible to you wherever you are, and lets you engage with it whenever you have a moment—riding the MetroLink, walking the dog, taking a short break.
The linking throughout the site lets you dive deep on a single topic, but also laterally explore related topics. We hope that in the process you’ll learn about topics you didn’t know much about—but also that you will see the interconnectedness of all of the topics addressed here, and realize how interconnected all of these issues are.
The combination of text, photos, and video, of policy- focused language and personal stories, of broad-level views and specific details, offers a rich, clickable environment for exploration and investigation.
A Living Document
Finally, this report is a living document. This means that unlike a traditional report, which would be considered final the day it was released, this report is just the beginning.
Because the report is being presented digitally, it’s not frozen in time. It can be updated to reflect new research, to connect you with additional resources that emerge to address these issues, and to provide progress updates on these issues and corresponding recommendations as residents engage and things change.
If we had released a traditional report, we would have increased the likelihood that the findings would simply sit on a shelf gathering dust. By releasing the report digitally, we’ve made sure that it stays alive, and will grow and evolve based on your engagement with it. We don’t think there’s ever been a commission report quite like it. We hope you’ll agree.