White House, Missouri Commission Seek Ways Forward Following Ferguson Unrest

Demonstrators prompt look at underlying social, economic issues

Ferguson
AP

A week after a grand jury declined to indict the white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed, black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, here's a look at what is next for the city and the country: 

What happened

Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9, leading to sometimes violent unrest in Ferguson.

Weeks of protests broke out immediately after the shooting and again after a grand jury announced on Nov. 24 that it would not indict Wilson in Brown’s death. Rioting broke out, with some demonstrators shooting at police, setting cars and buildings on fire and looting shops.

Protests have spread around the country, with groups marching to Times Square in New York City, shutting down the 10 freeway in southern California and trying to disrupt holiday shopping on Black Friday.

Wilson resigned over the weekend and Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said he received no pay or benefits in return. The officer wrote that his continued employment might have put the city's residents and police officers at risk.

And during the first Rams' home game since the grand jury decision, five players raised their hands before the football game's introduction. Some witnesses told the grand jury that Brown had his hands up before he was shot, though others said he did not raise his hands at all.

What’s happening now

A group calling itself Ferguson Action is urging people to walk out of their jobs or classes in solidarity on Monday.

“What gives us hope in this moment of pain and anguish is the thousands of people who have poured into the streets of America to demand change,” the group said in a statement.

In Missouri, a 16-member commission created by Gov. Jay Nixon met for the first time Monday afternoon. A public comment session was scheduled.

The panel is charged with investigating the underlying problems that unleashed the violence in Ferguson following the fatal shooting of Brown.

It will look at social and economic conditions from failing schools to high employment to uneasy relations between the police and the community. St. Louis County is predominantly white, but Ferguson and other nearby towns are mostly black. However, the police force in Ferguson is more than 90 percent white.

Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis says Ferguson, a city of about 21,000, has pockets of economic disadvantage but also middle- and upper-income residents and has benefitted from recent growth in the northern part of St. Louis County.

Ferguson's unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to more than 13 percent in 2012. Its poor population doubled so that now one in four lives below the federal poverty line.

The panel includes a Ferguson construction supply company owner, two pastors, a university professor, two lawyers, a 20-year-old community activist and a St. Louis police detective who is also president of the state chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.

President Obama, meanwhile, met Monday with his cabinet and civil rights activists, politicians and law enforcement officers.

The White House proposed $263 million in funding for body cameras for police officers, training and mroe engagement between police and communities.

The progam would need approval from Congress. It would provide a 50 percent match to states that purchase the cameras or $75 million over three years to help purchase more than 50,000 cameras.

NBC News reported that the administration would not make major changes to a program that transfers surplus military equipment to local police, but would try to make sure the equipment was used properly.

The president is also announced the creation of a new task force to prepare recommendations for 21st century policing.

The White House said the unrest showed the importance of strong, collaborative relationships between local police and the communities they serve.

"As the country has witnessed, disintegration of trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve can destabilize communities, undermine the legitimacy of the criminal justice system, undermine public safety, create resentment in local communities, and make the job of delivering police services less safe and more difficult," the White House said.

What's next?

The U.S. Justice Department has opened a federal civil rights investigation that could result in a separate prosecution though numerous experts have called that unlikely.

It has also initiated a broader investigation of the Ferguson police department that will look at the conduct of the entire department over the past several years.

Police officers in Ferguson have been the subject of a handful of lawsuits filed in recent years claiming that excessive force was used, NBC News reported.

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