Justice Department Report Sparks Resignations Of Key Ferguson Officials

Mar 12, 2015
Originally published on March 12, 2015 6:43 pm

After a Justice Department report ridiculed the city's government, a number of key Ferguson, Mo., officials resigned, including the powerful city manager and the police chief. But it may take more than shuffling personnel to heal the wounded city.

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Those shootings came soon after a number of key city officials in Ferguson, including the police chief, resigned following that sharply critical Justice Department report. But as St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum reports, it may take more than shuffling personnel for this beleaguered city to move forward.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: What a week it's been in Ferguson, Mo. Every day another shoe dropped - the municipal court judge on Monday, the city manager on Tuesday and the police chief on Wednesday. And early this morning, two police officers were shot while monitoring a protest. It's a mixture of events that St. Louis County police Chief Jon Belmar aptly summarized this morning.

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JON BELMAR: You know, we started off with a court clerk and then it went to, you know, two police officers. That went to the city manager. Now we're dealing with the chief who has stepped down. And it just kind of seems like that it is always in the public - you know, always in somebody's mind right now.

ROSENBAUM: This turbulent week marks just the latest jolt for a town rocked by months of discord over Michael Brown's shooting death. The Justice Department report accused the city's government fostering a racially biased culture of revenue-focused policing. Ferguson residents like Tony Rice are taking stock of what the departures mean for his town. He was outside Ferguson City Hall yesterday before the city's mayor announced that police Chief Tom Jackson was leaving. For Rice, the resignations amount to both vindication for protestors and hope for residents.

TONY RICE: I believe most of these city officials were the barrier. There was a barrier between city hall, and the residents and there was something in between that we just could not connect.

ROSENBAUM: Few people here see this week's events as an end to the town's troubles. There remain a number of outstanding questions for city leaders, including how fully to comply with the report's recommendations. Brian Fletcher is Ferguson's former mayor and the head of a business booster group called I Love Ferguson. After this week's spate of resignations, he's hoping for a breather.

BRIAN FLETCHER: The city itself is larger than any one or two or three or four individuals. What's important is that the city itself moves forward and serves its people and the community. And that we have the trust and the respect of the entire community.

ROSENBAUM: The cost of compliance could force Ferguson to dissolve its police department, which would result in the city contracting with the St. Louis County Police Department. But that's not a popular option among either city officials or protesters who clashed with county police during last year's protests. Then there's the city's racial divide, which appears to have widened over the past seven months. That was evident at this week's city council meeting, where residents clashed verbally over both blame and responsibility.

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SUZANNE SCHMIDT: First of all, I'd like to say that a lot of people in this room owe Darren Wilson an apology.

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SCHMIDT: The same justice report that you're basing all your opinions on cleared him 100 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The bottom line is the truth came out...

SCHMIDT: The bottom line, the truth did come out and he's an innocent man that - you know what? I didn't interrupt any of you.

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ROSENBAUM: That's Suzanne Schmidt, a white Ferguson resident. And that exchange could highlight how difficult healing will be here. But Derrick Robinson, who's with Kingdom Destiny Fellowship International, sees this week's events as a reason for optimism. He thinks Ferguson can make progress, but only if the new hires take a different approach.

DERRICK ROBINSON: I think there's a promising future, but the leadership has to be corrected. And as the chant said, the whole damn system is guilty as hell. So because that whole damn system is guilty we got to replace the system.

ROSENBAUM: Ferguson Mayor James Knowles says his city's embarking on a nationwide search to fill the vacant positions. And just who answers that call could determine the destiny of a troubled city with an uncertain future. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.