One year ago tonight, an announcement came from the St. Louis County prosecutor in Ferguson Missouri. Darren Wilson, a white police officer, would not be indicted for fatally shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old named Michael Brown.
The city of Ferguson erupted. Protesters set fire to more than a dozen buildings around the city. Police officers used tear gas, smoke, armored vehicles, snipers and police dogs to quell the demonstrations, which continued for weeks.
Wesley Bell, a Ferguson city council member who is also a municipal judge, speaks with Here & Now's Meghna Chakrabarti about what has happened in the city over the past year.
Interview Highlights: Wesley Bell
What has the year been like in Ferguson?
“It has been an experience to say the least. I think we’ve seen a lot of issues get addressed. One thing that we’ve done is implemented community policing, and no other city in the region has gone as far as we have. We’ve already had town hall meetings to establish an educational component, if you will, so residents understand exactly what community policing is and so the things that we’re doing are to make sure that the community and the police department are coming together as one and I think that’s important is that the public are the police and the police are the public.”
On the many issues Ferguson faced this year
“What I would say is that I think we have to make sure that we’re being fair and accurate. A lot of the issues that we saw in Ferguson, these are regional and national issues. They are not unique to Ferguson. I think there were some things that needed to be addressed, there’s no question about that. And I think if you look at what we’ve done with our court reform, community policing, and so yeah, there’s nothing you can do to change the past, but we can learn from the past.”
What lessons do we have to learn now, a year later?
“To me, it would start with one thing – community engagement, and making sure to have that community outreach so that your residents feel a part of the process. So with respect to hiring a full-time city manager, which we’ve just done, we had not only community panels, but also business leader panels. And so we’ve had community policing town hall meetings as well, so that we could talk to residents about exactly what it is that they want from their police department.”
Is there still tension in the community?
“I think that’s where the dialogue comes in. And I think it’s important that everyone’s perspectives are valued, and that when we have those constructive dialogues - for example, at St. Louis Community College, the Florissant Valley Campus where I teach in Ferguson, we had what we’re calling listening circles. And what we did is we got young people and members of the community as well as members of law enforcement and other community stakeholders and we had the opportunity to have constructive dialogues. No matter where you are on the spectrum, whether you thought the protests were effective, whether you thought they were not, you got an opportunity to be heard, and I think some of our town hall meetings also touched upon that. And so, you know, no way to erase and the healing process is not going to be overnight, but I think those are the things that lead you on that path to healing. We’re trying to stay a step ahead of potential issues and that starts with the community and the residents.”
This segment aired on November 24, 2015.