STL Post-Dispatch: Messenger: There are two fronts in the battle over the streets of St. Louis

Except for a few reporters, the Kennedy Hearing Room at City Hall was mostly empty.

The public safety committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen was questioning Maj. Mary Warnecke of the St. Louis police about the department’s “use of force” policy.

For more than two weeks, protesters had taken to the streets in part because they believe the police department has a history of using too much force — deadly force — when black suspects are involved. Some aldermen wanted to hear directly from Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole, but a resolution calling for him to appear was referred to committee.

 

So they peppered Warnecke with questions.

Alderman Christine Ingrassia pointed out that three years ago, after the Ferguson unrest, the state-appointed Ferguson Commission issued a series of calls to action and areas of guidance for policing and other racial equity issues.

She read from the Forward Through Ferguson report and asked Warnecke whether the police department had implemented the findings from the report. Other than offering implicit bias training to commanders, Warnecke wasn’t sure whether the various calls to action had been implemented.

Ingrassia came away wondering if the right people had even read the report.

Several days later, one of the men who co-chaired the Ferguson Commission was arrested.

The Rev. Starsky Wilson was among protesters who were detained Tuesday night after some of them had briefly shut down traffic on eastbound Highway 40 (Interstate 64) near Jefferson Avenue. About the time Wilson and state Rep. Bruce Franks and hundreds of others were protesting, there was an important meeting 11 miles to the west.

State Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, was hosting a panel discussion about the potential consolidation of city and county governments in the St. Louis region. Among the panelists were two men representing the nonprofit Better Together, which since late 2013 has been studying the inefficiencies inherent in a region in which its metropolitan city — St. Louis — is separated from the county surrounding it and that county is broken into 89 municipalities.

Among the many calls to action in the Forward Through Ferguson report guided by Wilson are proposals to consolidate the approximately 60 police departments and 80 municipal courts in the region. Why? Think back to Ferguson. When the Department of Justice came in to examine racial discrimination it found numerous examples in that one small St. Louis County suburb. Ferguson is now operating under a consent decree with the federal government, even though it is but a symptom of the region’s larger dysfunction.

 
 

The DOJ didn’t look at the city of St. Louis, even though the Anthony Lamar Smith shooting that sparked this year’s protests was three years earlier. It didn’t examine the numerous small town police departments around Ferguson that were known for shipping troubled police officers among them.

Three years later, political leaders are blowing the dust off the Forward Through Ferguson report, realizing there has been little progress despite widespread political and civic support for the report’s conclusions when it came out. On Wednesday, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson met with leaders from Forward Through Ferguson. According to one participant, the meeting wasn’t very productive.

No surprise there. The common denominator in the Forward Through Ferguson report and the Better Together studies is this one:

St. Louis is broken.

Protesters hit the street day after day bringing attention to the fact that African-American young people concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods are an afterthought in the region’s economy. Meanwhile, bureaucrats fighting to hold on to their own fiefdoms are staging their own form of protest, passing resolutions city by city opposing the future consolidation that could improve the economy of the entire region.

At the root of both protests is money, and who controls how it is distributed.

Late last month, in a piece in the St. Louis American, one of the three members of the Better Together task force studying what a consolidation plan might look like made the case that more regional governance would help St. Louis achieve the racial equity sought in the Forward Through Ferguson report.

“Stronger regional governance would … ultimately enable the African-American community to seek solutions of the magnitude to the problems that affect us,” wrote Will Ross, an associate dean at the Washington University School of Medicine. “Contrary to some opinions, rather than being lessened by regionalism, we will be stronger, focused, and committed to a strategic vision where everyone is a winner in the St. Louis region.”

The nightly fight over ownership of the streets of St. Louis is really a metaphor for something bigger.

Ultimately, the Forward Through Ferguson report is a road map for how to redistribute the area’s wealth so that everybody in the St. Louis region shares in it. A divided and dysfunctional government structure stands in its way.

Whose money? Our money.

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