It has been exactly one year since police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Mourners there marked the anniversary Sunday with a moment of silence, gathering in remembrance and protest of the shooting.
Michael Brown’s father spoke before a crowd of hundreds, according to St. Louis Public Radio’s Camille Phillips. Around noon, Phillips reports that the crowd was called upon for 4 1/2 minutes of silence.
“That number — 4 1/2 — is symbolic,” she says. “It’s used often at Ferguson protests and Michael Brown events, symbolizing the 4 1/2 hours Michael Brown’s body lay on the pavement after he was killed.”
After the speeches, the group lined up and marched through the streets, quietly and largely without chanting or singing.
For Rev. Starsky Wilson, the co-chair of the Ferguson Commission, the anniversary marks a time to take stock of the work his group has done. Appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in November, the commission was called upon to study and report on the systemic issues underlying the tensions in area.
“I’m confident that change has begun,” Wilson says, “that relationships are beginning to change.”
But in an interview with NPR’s Arun Rath, he says his efforts are far from over.
“No one should believe a headline that this is over; no one should believe a headline that we’ve made it. Ultimately, people should know that St. Louis has much work to do, that Ferguson has much work to do — and that it’s the same work that they’ve got to do in their communities, as well.”
On the progress he’s seen in Ferguson
I think there are a couple of ways they say that you get things done — organized money and organized people. What we’ve seen over the course of this year is the outcomes of a civic engagement at a level that we’ve not seen, particularly in St. Louis County. We’ve seen people turn out to vote and mobilize in ways that we’ve not seen in recent history for these kind of midyear and off elections.
These kinds of things give me hope, but the key will be pushing beyond this moment, this year. True change happens over the course of decades and generations, and we look forward to working with the people of the St. Louis region to make sure that happens.
On how the community feels about the healing process one year later
I think theologically in this way. I’m a minister, a pastor at church, and I think deeply about this concept of reconciliation and healing. So I think we have to be careful not to make overly sentimental, or overspiritualize the concepts of healing or reconciliation. We must recognize that reconciliation happens between equals, so there must be some structural adjustment and systemic work done to make sure that we’re talking about communities of equals. In areas where we have changed policy to ensure that there is greater equity, there will be healing.
Conversations and dialogue can be helpful in interpersonal relations, but it doesn’t necessarily always lead to healing. And in that way, we have a long way to go.
On what has surprised him in his work with the commission
Quite frankly, what surprised me most is the number of folks who had no idea that their fellow citizens and neighbors lived in the conditions that they do. …
One of the things we note is that our county seat, which is in [ZIP code] 63105 — it’s Clayton, Mo. — people who live in that ZIP code literally live 18 years longer than people who live in 63106, which is in North St. Louis City near my church. Literally, that’s 10 miles apart. But when you compare those same citizens who have access to the same infrastructure, purportedly, I think the average household income in 63105 is $90,000; in 63106, it’s $24,000. The unemployment rate is under 5 percent in 63105; it’s over 30 percent in 63106.
That kind of gross disparity side by side actually suggests that in our region of 2.8 million people, that there are those who are recovering from the recession and there are people still living in the depression.
On whether there’s more recognition of the role race plays in this economic disparity
I don’t think, quite frankly, there was any ignorance of the racial challenges. I think what there was, was a misunderstanding or a misplaced understanding by those who are privileged [about] whose responsibility that is. There’s still conversation about the personal responsibility of people, and needs for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And quite frankly, people don’t understand that a diffuse workforce, that built-in privilege from generation to generation, make it more difficult for people to move from poor to working-class, from working-class to middle-class in our region than it is in almost any major city throughout the United States.
You check all the boxes and do what you need to do and finish college and finish high school and these kinds of things — that stuff breaks down when you see a young man laying in the street for 4 1/2 hours, who’s finished high school from a school that was not accredited and who was in a week and a half headed to vocational school.
And so I think that the reality of the racial challenges has been known at some level. The question is: Have they been owned at every level?