The events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri may just be a watershed moment in the history of America. The facts of systemic inequality that African-Americans face every day were given a human face in Michael Brown and the nation, led by the citizens of Ferguson, have decided that something must change. But what? While experts and observers may offer their opinions in a variety of forums, they cannot effect change without some influence on those in power. Governor Jay Nixon announced on Tuesday that a commission to look into the underlying inequality in the system would be created as a result of the Ferguson protests and hopefully it is a step towards real solutions for the problem.
Nixon gave a news conference in the city of Ferguson where he announced the commission. In his statement he cited the need to have a difficult conversation that had been avoided before then. The shooting of Michael Brown may have been the start of the protests, but with the commission in place it just might be the start of real change as well. But for that to be possible, all the information and best advice of the experts will have to be collected. Hence, the Ferguson Commission will conduct a “thorough, wide-ranging and unflinching study” into what caused the problem and what can be done to address them.
Besides offering up a forum for the hard but necessary conversations, it is also an opportunity to change how the discourse has been conducted so far. The protests in Ferguson have ranged from peaceful to confrontational to almost being a war ground. There have been arrests and incidents of tear gas, yet still the protestors have not given up. They remain at their posts asking for justice for Michael Brown and change for the future. The commission could change that if it is successful. Nixon remarked that “shouting past one another will not move us where we need to go.” All indications point to the possibility of real change that could come out of the commission.
Many people remain skeptical about the usefulness and possible efficacy of a commission, however. Nixon’s actions during the Ferguson crisis have been roundly criticized for being detached and aloof. His failures to be seen actively supporting the community do not inspire confidence that his new announcement will produce any fruit. State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal was quoted as having said, “Just having a commission, that doesn’t do anything for us.” St. Louis Alderman Antonio French echoed her sentiment when he said, “Commissions for the sake of commissions doesn’t help anything.” There seems to be a widespread feeling of doubtfulness when it comes to how useful the Ferguson Commission will actually be.
Importantly, the commission announced by Governor Jay Nixon as a result of the ongoing protests in Ferguson will not to be an investigation into the events of Michael Brown’s death. There is already a large amount of skepticism that justice will be done for Brown. A St. Louis grand jury has until January 2015 to decide whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed the young man. New details leaked to the press about evidence possibly confirming Wilson’s account of the incident have only fanned the flames of fear that nothing will be done.
Protests on Monday night resulted in the arrests of two persons, one of which was Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed. She was apparently peacefully protesting in front of the Ferguson Police department. When told to move out of the street, they did not comply and were subsequently arrested. It was discovered that Nasheed had been carrying a concealed weapon, a handgun, which she says she had a license to carry. Some reports say she was brandishing the weapon in the street, but that is not confirmed. Her lawyer claims that she was engaged in “civil-disobedience action” in an attempt to set a tone for possibly more such actions.
Nasheed is not the only one who anticipates an escalation in the Ferguson protests. When news broke about the details of Michael Brown’s case, people began to plan for the next step in the protests.Amy Hunter, a racial justice director for YWCA, warned that while some may continue in a peaceful vein, others probably have different plans. Hunter was not the only person to warn of possibly violent actions should the jury fail to indict Darren Wilson. One protester who remained anonymous said, “Excuse my French, all hell is going to break loose.” The conviction to stay and fight for justice for Michael Brown remains strong in those still on the streets.
While a commission enquiring into the best ways to effect change after the events of Ferguson seems like a reasonable measure, there is a groundswell of opinion that it simply is not enough. The efficacy of Jay Nixon’s governorship on the matter has already been called into question. To some, the commission seems like one last-ditch effort to prove he has not simply done nothing. The commission will begin meeting in early November, but as yet no one has been appointed to it. It is still early days for the commission, but the protesters have been doing the hard work of staying on the streets and standing for what they believe in since this saga began. Unless Governor Jay Nixon’s announced Ferguson Commission creates results, it will matter little to the movement of progress begun by those protestors.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury