Commentary: Where Do We Go From Ferguson?


Commentary: Where Do We Go From Ferguson?

Keith Boykin reflects on how much hasn't changed in the past year.

Published August 12, 2015

I spent the past few days in Ferguson to cover the anniversary of the Michael Brown shooting, and I had hoped to write about it this week, but much of the national dialogue on race has already moved on to the killing of Christian Taylor, an unarmed Black college football player shot by a white police officer in Arlington, Texas.

Today I'm in Dallas, just a few miles from where Taylor was shot. I came here to visit friends and family, just as I had originally planned my trip to St. Louis weeks ago as part of a multi-city getaway. But instead of a vacation, I've found the news has followed me from city to city. A year after the uprising in Ferguson, it's hard to think of a city that hasn't been touched by a controversial police shooting or an incident of police brutality.

Many of those who have covered the national movement the past year have traveled from place to place, from New York to Baltimore to Charleston to Cleveland to McKinney to Los Angeles, and, of course, to Ferguson. But the people who live in those cities carry on their daily lives, even when the media caravan inevitably pulls out of town.

In places like Ferguson, life goes on long after the world has stopped paying attention. I saw it in the faces of a group of young Black boys with backpacks marching into the building next to Greater St. Mark Church on Chambers Road bouncing basketballs one afternoon. There was the concerned mother walking her white-robed son to karate practice on Canfield Drive. And there were the local regulars buying lottery tickets at the Ferguson Market on West Florissant.

While a group of activists were arrested during a protest at the federal courthouse in St. Louis on Monday, Black people who are not involved in protests and who do not have access to lawyers or bail money, are still being locked up in Ferguson and other cities. That's part of the reason why Sandra Bland stayed in jail for days in Texas after she was pulled over for a minor traffic violation.

After spending several days trying to figure out what the new story was in Ferguson, I left with the strong impression that the new story is the old story. Not much has changed in a year. Yes, Ferguson has a new Black police chief and two new Black city council members, but every day life still seems the same, especially in the African-American communities where there are not enough jobs, inadequate schools, and too much poverty.

A year after Ferguson, police were still using many of the same aggressive tactics to combat civil disobedience in the streets, and many of the same activists, reporters and public officials were still in their familiar places along the main protest route in the commercial strip on West Florissant.

The Ferguson demonstrations this year felt a bit like a tragic reunion. I ran into activist Deray McKesson at the airport. I sat next to former New Black Panther leader Malik Shabazz on the plane to St. Louis. I watched Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson patrolling the streets. And I saw the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery and USA Today's Yamiche Alcindor roaming through the crowds late at night with reporter's notebooks. All of us had been in Ferguson last year.

And yet the people I knew the most in St. Louis, my own family, had spent little or no time in Ferguson. They live in nearby communities, and many had never left the St. Louis area since last August. A few family members warned me to "be careful out there," to the point where I started to worry about my own safety for the first time in many visits to the protest area.

But for my family, and I suppose for other longtime African-American residents of St. Louis, it was as if they didn't need to visit Ferguson to understand the story of racism, racial profiling and racial bias in policing. They lived that story in their own lives, and they knew it was not confined to Ferguson.

Ferguson has become the symbol that represents our outrage and uprising. It's not the only example of racist policing in America, or even in St. Louis. It's just the place where ordinary people finally had enough and decided to rebel against the oppression against them.

The question now is where do we go from Ferguson? Activists have spent the past year bringing much needed attention to the problems of racism and policing. And, no doubt, America will be talking about these issues for years to come. But talk is not enough. Now we have to find solutions.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for each week.

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 (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Written by Keith Boykin


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