Forward From Ferguson

Terrance Heath

The goals of the post-Ferguson movement for justice must reach beyond whether the grand jury indicts officer Darren Wilson in the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Too much depends upon its success.

Over 100 days ago Wilson shot and killed Brown. In the aftermath, the streets of Ferguson resembled a war zone. Today, Ferguson is preparing for war again. As the city awaits the grand jury’s decision, citizens and law enforcement are arming and preparing for the worst.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, anger over the absence of justice must not overshadow the changes we must continue to fight for after the Ferguson grand jury makes its decision.

Policing

Following Michael Brown’s death, social justice leaders, members of Congress, faith leaders, artists and activists signed an open letter to President Obama laying out seven areas of action. We must continue to demand these changes in the way our communities are policed.

  • Training: Law enforcement personnel in every department in the country, under guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), should be required to undergo racial bias training as a part of ongoing professional development and training.
  • Accountability: Police departments should not be solely responsible for investigating themselves. These departments are funded by the public and should be accountable to the public. Enforceable accountability measures must be either established or reexamined for impartiality in circumstances where police shoot unarmed victims. DOJ must set and implement national standards of investigation that are democratic, transparent, and enforceable.
  • Diversity: Police departments must adopt personnel practices that result in the hiring and retention of diverse law enforcement professionals. The DOJ must set, implement, and monitor diversity hiring and retention guidelines for local police departments.
  • Engagement: Police departments must break through stereotypes and bias by identifying regular opportunities for constructive and quality engagement with youth living in the communities they serve. The administration can authorize support for youth engagement activity under existing youth grants issued by DOJ.
  • Demilitarization: The administration must suspend programs that transfer military equipment into the hands of local police departments and create guidelines that regulate and monitor the use of military equipment that has already been distributed.
  • Examination and Change: The administration must quickly establish a national commission to review existing police policies and practices, identify the best policies and practices that can prevent more Fergusons, and vastly improve policing in communities across the nation.
  • Oversight: The administration must appoint a federal czar, housed in the U.S. Department of Justice, who is specifically tasked with promoting the professionalization of local law enforcement, monitoring egregious law enforcement activities, and adjudicating suspicious actions of local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding.

Racial Profiling

America must stop “following tragedy with embarrassment” and pass the End Racial Profiling Act, before the next city that’s “one dead black teenager away from burning to the ground” catches fire. Introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in 2013, the Eliminate Racial Profiling Act:

  • Defines racial profiling as law enforcement “relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion” in its investigative practices, including: traffic stops, pedestrian stops, frisks or other types of body searches, consensual or non consensual searches of property or possessions, etc.
  • Prohibits any law enforcement agent or agency from engaging in racial profiling. Grants the United States or an individual injured by racial profiling the right to obtain declaratory or injunctive relief.
  • Requires federal law enforcement agencies to maintain adequate policies and procedures to eliminate, and to cease existing practices that permit, racial profiling.
  • Requires state or local governmental entities or state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies to certify that they have policies and procedures in place to eliminate racial profiling, and have eliminated practices that permit or encourage racial profiling.
  • Authorizes the attorney general to award grants and contracts for the collection of data relating to racial profiling and for the development of best practices and systems to eliminate racial profiling.

Jobs

Rev. Al Sharpton said it best at Michael Brown’s funeral:

“America is going to have to come to terms when there’s something wrong, that we have money to give military equipment to police forces, when we don’t have money for training, and money for public education and … our children.”

The aftermath of Michael Brown’s death revealed a Pentagon program that has distributed paramilitary weapons and equipment worth $4.3 billion since 1992. What if we had invested even a fraction of the $4.3 billion in education, training, and jobs for young people in places like Ferguson?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was among the first to grasp the economic story behind Ferguson, and proposed legislation to address the national crisis of black youth unemployment. The Employ Young Americans Now Act will:

  • Provide $5.5 billion in immediate funding to states and localities to employ 1 million young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24, and provide job training to hundreds of thousands of young Americans.
  • Provide summer and year-round employment opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth, with direct links to academic and occupational learning.
  • Provide important services such as transportation or child care, necessary to enable young Americans to participate in job opportunities.
  • Award $1.5 billion in competitive grants to local areas to provide work-based training to low and moderate income youth and disadvantaged young adults.

Economic Justice

In “The Making of Ferguson,” Richard Rothstein debunked media accounts that “white flight” and private prejudice explained how Ferguson became Ferguson.

Rothstein detailed how “mutually reinforcing federal, state, and local policies” going all the way back to the Jim Crow era led to segregation and economic disparity in Ferguson and beyond.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill explained the long-term economic impact of the policies Rothstein detailed, and suggested a way forward.

Forward From Ferguson

Whatever the grand jury decides, we must move forward from Ferguson, demanding justice far beyond one indictment in one death.

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