A reflection on Ferguson, one year after the August 9, 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown



By Washington Adventist University Adjunct Professor Colin Wellenkamp and U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.)

Ferguson One Year Later – What Do You Want to See Change?


Let us ask you: “What exactly was supposed to change since August 9, 2014?” Was crime supposed to drop, jobs increase, upward mobility become easier, education for all? Would these even scratch the surface of the real change people are looking for – a change in ourselves? Race relations in the United States have been comprised of difficult and full-contact struggles for more than two and a half centuries, and race is now giving way to other more prevalent divisions in our society – the divisions of wealth, opportunity, and relevance.

Almost from all angles, race is becoming an ever decreasing determinant of destiny in the United States. The U.S. population is projected to reach 400 to 450 million people by the year 2050, with nearly 80 percent of that growth coming from immigrants and their descendants.

The real question is not who the next generation of Americans will be, but what will they do and how will they live. We all want a society with fair and effective social justice, education, infrastructure, healthcare, jobs, and a quality of life that comes with clean water, clean air, and a healthy ecology. The problem is that what we want comes with a price.

Change 1: We’ve learned (again) that there’s a price for the community life we seek
If we want healthy communities, we need to support police training and hiring practices that will result in less siege work and more social work.

Since its inception, the Community Oriented Policing Services Program provided $10 billion across 12,000 police agencies. The point of the program is to hire police officers for deeper engagement with the community. During the recession, unemployment rose and program spending dropped.

Adding to the economic stress is decreased federal support. Since FY2012, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program has been cut 34 percent, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring grants by 44 percent, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by 75 percent, the juvenile delinquency prevention initiatives by more than 50 percent.

Change 2: Ferguson is simply a symptom of larger problems we can’t ignore or defund
We applaud the work of the Ferguson Commission in moving beyond the issues of law enforcement relations and embracing the larger factors of economic inequality, education, and childhood development. We are excited about the pending release of the Commission’s report as it will identify 200 calls to action.

Change 3: we’re more uncomfortable with each other
Ferguson has aggravated very difficult and uncomfortable realities many don’t want to face or talk about. Ferguson has brought-up awkward conversations around just about every American dinner table since August 9, 2014. People want it to go away and it won’t. The ten million working poor in this country are tired of working hard to stay poor and they seek not a hand-out, but a fair shot. Middle class whites feel demonized and they’re tired of being blamed for oppression they feel they’ve had nothing to do with; they would like to see less blame and more progress.

There are three parts to addressing what we face: 1) support justice assistance programs at all levels of government - this means embedding community policing into all facets of police work; 2) fund oversight training and technology so both the public and police are better protected; and 3) give majority attention and funding to education, job training, youth mentoring, and at-risk youth.

There has been positive movement: 1) minimum wages in the nation are rising; 2) local governments are working to control predatory revenue generation practices; 3) states are turning to more intervention and prevention in treating crime over suppression to fight it.

Other good news one year after Ferguson is that we’re still having these conversations. We are witnessing the next evolution of American society as equality marches on and franchises more of us into equal protection under the law.

We crossed a bridge in Selma, we’re crossing more in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other places. Crossing bridges is scary – we don’t know if we’ll make it to the other side, the fall could be fatal, the bridge may not hold. But, hand-in-hand we can do this. It will be a struggle and it will take true courage which is accepting the things we can’t change and changing the things we can, such as ourselves.

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Washington Adventist University is Montgomery County's only four-year private college. Part of the Seventh-day Adventist system of higher education, Washington Adventist University has been educating college students since 1904 on a 19-acre campus in suburban Takoma Park, close to the nation’s capital. Approximately 1,100 students of all faiths participate in the university’s eight graduate and 32 undergraduate programs. The 2014 edition of U.S. News & World Report ranked Washington Adventist University among the best regional colleges in the north.


Media Contacts:
Angie Crews, 301-351-3197, acrews@wau.edu
Donna Bigler, 240-286-1169, dbigler@wau.edu