December 03, 2014The iconic banner headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Nov. 25, "NO CHARGES FOR WILSON," was seen around the world. It was posted in the Newseum in Washington, D.C., and on websites across the globe.
There has been plenty of carping, finger-pointing and second-guessing in the aftermath of the grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Mayhem in the town of Ferguson on the evening of Nov. 24 has spurred criticism over timing of the release of the decision. That same mayhem also has inspired anger directed at Gov. Jay Nixon for not deploying the National Guard more effectively to protect the businesses in Ferguson and Dellwood.
The looting and burning has led to some blanket condemnations of all the demonstrators protesting the decision in the Brown case. Why are "those people" burning down their own town as a way to somehow demand justice? What sense does that make?
Law-and-order types say justice has been served and it's time to move on. They have only praise for County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, and they are livid at the idea of any future civil rights lawsuits or federal intervention in the Brown case.
The folks who never really trusted McCulloch to begin with have only had their suspicions confirmed that "this grand jury investigation would be a whitewash." They are pointing out the unorthodox manner in which the investigation was conducted, as well as how its results were presented.
Some legal scholars contend the county prosecutor ignored how grand juries have historically been conducted. They are especially critical of the introduction of testimony from officer Wilson himself to the grand jury.
All of this anger and bitterness, criticism and second-guessing is not going to go away any time soon. In this atmosphere, all of us should find a way to be supportive of those who volunteered for the Ferguson Commission. Commission members truly have their work cut out for them.
The Ferguson Commission cannot follow the usual pattern in St. Louis – simply issuing a high-minded study, only destined for the shelf to collect dust. The Commission must examine the inequities and racial polarization in Greater St. Louis and come up with a program of reform that cannot be ignored – and that can be acted upon.
Gateway City: Grim Times
These are dark days for St. Louis, but our metropolis has been through much darker times – literally. Exactly 75 years ago in the months of November and December, St. Louis experienced days in which the sun never rose.
A noxious, black cloud hovered over the region, frightening residents and ultimately prompting the nation's first major environmental movement. Cheap coal was the culprit. St. Louis mobilized to fight the air pollution that had been poisoning it for decades.
Local media, city leaders and civic groups launched a "smoke abatement campaign." There was an intense battle against big money, vested interests and utilities, but idealism and resolve eventually succeeded. That uphill campaign still inspires people across the country today.
This fall, I met Professor Bob Wyss of the University of Connecticut at a Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) Conference. Wyss told me he is putting together a blog at coalblacksky.com to tell the success story of eradicating an environmental injustice that was choking the city.
"The echoes of what St. Louis experienced 75 years ago reverberate today in cities in China, India and elsewhere," according to Wyss. "The hopelessness that at first hovered over St. Louis can be found in the global political malaise in confronting climate change now. Besides telling the story of St. Louis, the blog will report on air pollution issues around the U.S. and the world."
Wyss notes that the St. Louis success story brought officials from other smoke-plagued cities to visit to find out how the abatement campaign was put into action. The metropolis of St. Louis was actually a model and an inspiration for other communities.
St. Louis needs a new success story in the terrible aftermath of Ferguson – and the many years of neglect that led up to this calamity. No single civic group or well-intentioned commission can write a success story by itself. Can we as a community again mobilize to disperse the noxious cloud hanging over our region today?