FERGUSON, Mo. — They came again this week, to help put back together their town.
Businessmen in suits, doctors in lab coats, grandmas, grandpas, teens and at least one whole family filed into the new community center nestled in the Ferguson woods. The parking lot was full.
Tuesday was the fourth residents-only meeting, sponsored by the city, but run by the U.S. Department of Justice. The goal, this time: To find a way forward.
They deemed themselves a smaller, but dedicated bunch. This town hall, several said, was important.
“These last few meetings have been about solving the problem,” said Jacque Perez, 54. “It’s how we can come together as a community, figure out the problem, and fix it.”
“We have a vested interest,” added Georgia Durfee, 55. “This is our community. This is our home. Yes, we have issues. And we need to solve them.”
About 2 1/2 months ago, a police officer here shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. A grand jury is now considering evidence in the case. Ferguson has since faced night after night of protests, riots and tumult.
Tuesday’s meeting, then, was perhaps the most important of the bunch.
The first set, held a month ago, covered issues city leaders identified as misconceptions regarding Ferguson. One of the two meetings lasted well beyond its 6 to 8 p.m. window, with residents lining the aisles waiting to talk. Viewpoints then were often polarized. Several black residents left one of the meetings early, frustrated by white residents’ complaints about the protests that have filled Ferguson streets, closed the farmers market and forced drivers to detour. White residents, meanwhile, griped that their black neighbors attributed too many problems to racism among police officers.
But residents at the second set of meetings, three weeks ago, largely struck a different tone. Many praised their neighbors for their caring, commitment and for simply taking the time to listen.
The third meeting, two weeks ago, focused on diversity and racial tension. About 200 residents showed up; they talked in small groups about stereotypes, white privilege and personal commitment to addressing the town’s problems.
Some called the conversations difficult, others “courageous.”
Tuesday’s town hall — “A Roadmap for Growth: Where do we go from here?” — was the final scheduled meeting.
Mayor James Knowles said the goal was to figure out some tangible actions in response to his town’s racial tension and focused unrest.
The meeting was again closed to non-residents, including the media. Police officers checked identification at the door.
But Knowles reported good progress:
Residents broke into three groups of about 40. One tackled youth programming, another police-community relations, and the last, quality of life.
And residents did report some concrete suggestions: A review board to investigate citizen complaints against the police department. A centralized services depot, to let residents know about social services available. An expansion of the area’s sports leagues into underserved sections of Ferguson. Job training. Jobs.
That is not to say all thought it so successful, or so easy.
Juanita Stone, 54, wants to see decisive leadership. “It’s almost like the elected officials, the people we put in office, are afraid to do what’s right,” she said. “I personally think there needs to be some consequences for Ferguson police.”
Phillip Duvall, 51, called some of the conversations “painful.” “There’s still a lot of tension,” he said.
And one frustrating theme remained, several repeated. “The young people aren’t here,” Duvall echoed. “We shouldn’t be making programs for them without their input.”
“We need to keep working on this,” he said. “We need to stay focused.”
Knowles said the city has committed to enter a federal initiative, called My Brother’s Keeper, to address education, youth employment and youth crime.
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