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The Commission

What is the Ferguson Commission?

The Ferguson Commission is an independent group appointed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on November 18, 2014, to conduct a “thorough, wide-ranging and unflinching study of the social and economic conditions that impede progress, equality and safety in the St. Louis region.” The need to address these conditions was underscored by the unrest in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson on August 9, 2014.

The Commission’s Charge

The Commission, composed of 16 diverse volunteer leaders, was charged with the following:

  • To examine the underlying causes of these conditions, including poverty, education, governance, and law enforcement;
  • To engage with local citizens, area organizations, national thought leaders, institutions, and experts to develop a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the concerns related to these conditions; and
  • To issue an unflinching report containing specific, practical policy recommendations for making the region a stronger, fairer place for everyone to live.

This is that report.

Beyond the Charge

The Governor’s charge established the foundation for the Commission’s work. But as the Commission met, and as we discussed the work before us, we established additional aims.

Knowing that implementing any policy changes will take the coordinated efforts of many stakeholders, we worked to engage a broad and diverse coalition of civic leaders, business leaders, faith leaders, and other respected members of the community in the process of developing our recommendations.

Understanding the importance of repairing the damaged trust many people feel toward public institutions, we made openness and transparency cornerstones of the Commission’s work. Commission meetings have been open to the public and the media, and subject to the Sunshine Law. Notes, resources, transcripts, and video from Commission meetings have been openly shared online following each meeting.

Appreciating that the challenges we examined were not unique to our region, we sought the perspective and expert testimony of practitioners from around the country who could present new ways of seeing the evidence we were examining and provide new ideas and best practices from other communities that should be considered.

Similarly, we aspired to develop a work process that could serve as a model to other communities struggling with similar challenges, and to develop best practices that communities across the country could adopt locally.

Most importantly, we have embraced as our charge helping the community chart a new path toward healing and positive change for the residents of the St. Louis region.

Who Makes up the Commission?

The 16 volunteer members of the Commission come from a variety of backgrounds and represent a diversity of communities, experiences, and opinions. The Rev. Starsky Wilson and Rich McClure have led the Commission as co-chairs. A full list of Commissioners is available in the “Acknowledgements” section of the report and their biographies are on our website.

In addition to the 16 Commissioners, hundreds of citizens volunteered their time and expertise throughout the process, serving on Commission working groups, participating in open meetings, and making possible the numerous community events that were held in an effort to further engage the region.

How Did the Commission Approach Its Work?

As mentioned earlier, while our formal charge was to issue policy recommendations, we took as our informal charge to help chart a new path toward healing and positive change for the residents of the St. Louis region.

We knew that path started not with policy, but with people.

A Commitment to Community Engagement

And so we listened. At open community meetings all across the region, we invited people to speak. We had the opportunity to hear from people from communities throughout the region, from a variety of diverse backgrounds, of all ages, from all walks of life. When citizens stood up to share their thoughts and experiences, their remarks were unscripted and honest. From these frank discussions we heard about the challenges of daily life and the frustrations and struggles that many St. Louisans face every day.

While we also listened to experts from across the country, to researchers and scholars, to clergy and legislators, and to business, non-profit, and civic leaders, our commitment to listening to and honoring the voices of the people was the common thread running through our work.

This commitment to community engagement meant that we consistently got a raw view of what life was like for people in neighborhoods like Ferguson, and that we never forgot about the people who our policies were meant to serve.

Over the course of 17 full Commission meetings, which were open to the public and held in various neighborhoods around the region between November 2014 and September 2015, almost 2,000 people participated. Each of these open meetings included opportunities for open public comment, presentations from local and national experts on a wide variety of subjects, and, at several meetings, facilitated discussion in small breakout groups.

Working Groups

Based on community prioritization at the initial public meeting, the Commission was subdivided into four working groups, which met independently of the full Commission meetings. Each working group was co- chaired by a pair of Commissioners and included 10 to 20 local subject matter experts, professionals, practitioners, and citizens.

Since January 2015, the working groups have held 38 public meetings. Each group met regularly throughout the process, working with a clear charge to identify the key areas within their scope that needed to be addressed. They consulted with experts, heard community voices, and reviewed existing research.

It’s important to note that by design, the working groups members didn’t always agree. Each working group intentionally included voices and philosophies of practice that were in tension with one another. Members of each working group were selected because of their experience, depth of knowledge, demonstrated commitment to improving our region, and the Commission’s commitment to the inclusion of diverse voices in this process.

As a result, our calls to action reflect what we believe is the result of ensuring all voices are heard. They reflect agreement in some areas, and compromise in others. The proposed calls to action from each working group do not necessarily reflect a consensus or universal agreement among participating working group members. In fact, there was disagreement on a number of major calls to action. Despite the contention, all working group members have agreed to align behind the final calls to action.

Those working groups were:

CITIZEN-LAW ENFORCEMENT RELATIONS

Working Group Co-Chairs:
Commissioner Dan Isom
Commissioner Brittany Packnett

Desired Changes:
Design accountability measures and policies that ensure law enforcement agencies serve and protect all citizens based on principles of:

  • Trust;
  • Mutual respect;
  • Transparency;
  • Cultural competence; and
  • Justice

Topics Explored:

  • Use of Force
  • Civilian Oversight
  • Anti-Bias & Cultural Competency
  • Accreditation & Accountability
  • Community Policing
  • Public Demonstration
  • Special Prosecution
  • Officer Wellness
  • Use of Technology

Review the full list of calls to action from this working group in the “Calls to Action” section of the report.

MUNICIPAL COURTS AND GOVERNANCE

Working Group Co-Chairs:
Commissioner Traci deVon Blackmon
Commissioner T.R. Carr

Desired Changes:
Just governance aimed at restoring community trust and enforcing laws in fair and intended ways with a focus on:

  • Restorative justice and equity;
  • Judicial independence;
  • Fiscal responsibility; and
  • Transparency

Topics Explored:

  • Uniform List of Rights
  • Informing Public on Court Procedures and Individual Rights
  • Failure to Appear Charges
  • Ability to Pay Hearings
  • Restorative Justice
  • Alternatives Sentences
  • Establishment of Alternative Community Service
  • Conflict of Interest

Review the full list of calls to action from this working group in the “Calls to Action” section of the report.

CHILD WELL-BEING AND EDUCATION EQUITY

Working Group Co-Chairs:
Commissioner Becky James-Hatter
Commissioner Grayling Tobias (December 1, 2014 – April 13, 2015)

Desired Changes:

Build a region that ensures that all children and youth, ages 0-25, are thriving in their daily lives by:

  • Growing and developing to their full potential;
  • Retaining the ability to be children; and
  • Preparing to become fulfilled and contributing adults

Secure educational achievement, fairness, and opportunity for all youth by:

  • Setting high expectations;
  • Recognizing unique differences and developmental stages;
  • Advancing outcome-based approaches;
  • Aligning and coordinating customized services; and
  • Producing college-ready and career-ready students

Topics Explored:

  • School District and School Accreditation
  • Hunger and Food Instability
  • Public Education Funding
  • College Access and Affordability
  • Human Capital in Education
  • Social Service Coordination with Schools
  • Caring Adults (mentors, coaches)
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Parent Education and Engagement
  • Childhood Health

Review the full list of calls to action from this working group in the “Calls to Action” section of the report.

ECONOMIC INEQUITY AND OPPORTUNITY

Working Group Co-Chairs:
Commissioner Felicia Pulliam
Commissioner Pat Sly

Desired Changes:

Enable new, proven, and innovative pathways for all residents to have equal access to economic opportunity by addressing critical needs through:

  • Family and community stability;
  • Institutions and organizations; and
  • Systemic policy and practices

Topics Explored:

  • Economic Mobility
  • Job Skills and Training
  • Employment and Income
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Entrepreneurship and Small Business Growth
  • Health and Wellness
  • Youth Investment

Review the full list of calls to action from this working group in the “Calls to Action” section of the report.

RACIAL EQUITY AND RECONCILIATION

This was not a working group, but rather a topic that all working groups considered. All working groups were asked to “Intentionally apply a racial equity lens to the work” by asking the following three questions:

  1. Whom does this recommendation benefit?
  2. Does this recommendation differentially impact racial and ethnic groups?
  3. What is missing from this recommendation that will decrease or eliminate racial disparities?

Our commitment to racial equity means that we intentionally and critically examined race and ethnicity when analyzing problems, proposing solutions, and measuring success. Therefore, these indicators are important to consider when making policy and evaluating effectiveness.

Key Considerations

Throughout the process, our work was unified by a series of key considerations. Though the working groups explored very different topics, we recognize that these issues are interconnected. These common considerations ensured that every call to action we made would address these essential themes.

These considerations were:

Racial Equity. Race is a key factor in so many of the issues we explored. St. Louis is the 5th most racially segregated of 50 large metro areas in the United States. (Ihnen, 2013) The statistical racial disparities in poverty, education, employment, and wealth point to racial inequities that we believed must be considered in all of our deliberations.

Generational Change. Whatever change we hope to achieve, we know that it must be change that lasts beyond the short term and reaches across generations. Many of the problems that face our region have developed over several generations. To solve them, we must do so with an eye toward future generations. We want to do all we can to make things better for our children, and their children.

Health Equity. The life expectancy for a resident of zip code 63105 (Clayton), whose population is 9 percent Black, is 85 years. The life expectancy for a resident of zip code 63016 (North St. Louis), whose population is 95% Black, is 67 years (Purnell, et al., 2014). While there are also significant disparities between these two zip codes in unemployment, poverty, and median household income, this difference of 18 years of life between average residents in zip codes less than 10 miles away illustrates a health inequity that is alarming.

Supported by Research

The Governor’s Executive Order directed the Commission to “take testimony and gather information, and […] engage the scholarly and research expertise necessary to help inform the commission about the issues …”

With that in mind, we reviewed dozens of previously published research reports from government agencies and non-profit organizations at the local, state, and federal levels. We also heard testimony and presentations from more than two dozen subject matter experts from the region and across the country.

In addition, the Commission contracted with the Institute of Public Policy, a division of the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri, for research support.

In the Calls to Action section of the report, you can explore some of the reports and documents the Commission reviewed in its work.

How did the Commission Determine Priorities?

Since the Governor’s appointment, the Ferguson Commission convened regional leaders, subject matter experts, and community members to produce 189 calls to action. These calls to action identify specific policy recommendations that the Commission believes can better our region. Each call to action identifies specific accountable bodies—individuals and organizations whose cooperation and effort will be needed to make each call to action a reality.

Once the calls to action were developed, the Commission identified those calls we believed should be prioritized.

Three criteria were considered when determining the priority calls to action:

Transformative. Is the policy call to action innovative? Will it create an impact or cause positive change?

Urgent. Will this policy call to action address pressing issues?

Unflinching. Does the policy present cause-driven solutions that call out core issues in the region?

The calls identified as signature priorities are organized into three primary categories:Justice for All, Youth at the Center, and Opportunity to Thrive.

All the signature calls to action can be found in the Signature Priorities section of the site. All 189 calls to action produced by the Commission can be found in the Calls to Action section.

Lessons and Legacy

Not long after the Commission began its work, people began asking what was going to be in the report. The Governor had commissioned us to produce a report, and our specific recommendations, as directed, would be included in that report. Understandably, people were interested in what that report would say, and what those recommendations would be.

But those involved in the work quickly came to understand that those calls to action, and this report, would not be the only products of the Commission’s work. As we met, discussed, listened, and investigated, another—perhaps more important—product was being produced:our process.

Process as Product

From the beginning, we committed ourselves to abide by several adopted guiding principles:transparency, sustainable and enduring action with urgency, equity and fairness, civic engagement, diversity and inclusion, and integrity.

We believed these were sound principles for guiding our efforts. Considering the serious circumstances that led to the Commission’s creation, and how much was at stake in our work, we believed we had a duty to adhere to them.

As we listened, it quickly became clear that people in communities all across the region not only wanted to talk about these issues, and needed to talk about these issues, they also wanted to do something about these issues.

What had been missing was a forum—and a process for engaging all that pent-up energy, frustration and vision.

By providing a space and an opportunity to talk honestly about these issues that have plagued our region for generations, and by consistently demonstrating to people that their concerns would be heard, the Ferguson Commission became a catalyst for citizen engagement and involvement.

By calling on community leaders and experts from different sectors from across the region, people gathered who had never sat together before to come to what became the region’s “kitchen table” to explore these issues with a wide range of expertise, experiences, and perspectives. As those people came to the table, they listened to each other with patience, curiosity, and respect. Conversations that in the past might have been heated and contentious have been conducted with a sense of purpose, obligation, and resolve.

The process has led to new connections, new ideas, new understanding, and a new vocabulary with which to talk about the issues we face. It has created new awareness of resources and tapped into deep wells of political will and personal conviction. It has highlighted an appetite for change and a new sense of urgency.

The response we have seen to the process says that people in St. Louis want to make a difference, and they believe that the region can be better. It also says they want to work together to do it.

This report, and the policy changes we have called for, will be part of the legacy of the Ferguson Commission. We hope that this process of engagement will equally be part of that legacy.

It is this process of engagement that drives the accountability and action that will move the region forward.

Citations

  1. Purnell, J., Drake, B.F., Goodman, M., Hudson, D.K., Tate, W.F., Camberos, G., Fields, R., Elder, K., Gilbert, K.L. (2014). For the Sake of All:A multidisciplinary study on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis. Institute for Public Health. Retrieved from https:// publichealth.wustl.edu/projects/sake/
  2. Ihnen, A. (2013). Lies, damn lies, racial integration and segregation in St. Louis, and statistics. NextSTL. Retrieved from:https://nextstl.com/2013/01/lies-damn-lies-racial- integration-and-segregation-in-st-louis-and-statistics/