GWEN IFILL: Just over a year after the city of Ferguson, Missouri, exploded in unrest after the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, a local commission today released a blunt new report.
Focusing on race, inequity and history, the 16-member Ferguson Commission issued 189 calls to action, including improvements in police practices, education, housing, and health care access.
"What we are pointing out," the commission concluded, "is that the data suggests, time and again, that our institutions and existing systems are not equal, and that this has racial repercussions."
Joining me now to discuss the report and its possible impact are commission co-chair the Reverend Starsky Wilson, and Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal.
Thank you both for joining us.
So, call to action, Reverend Wilson. What was the single most surprising and the single least surprising thing that you found in this report?
REV. STARSKY WILSON, The Ferguson Commission: Well, thank you for having us on.
First, quite frankly, the most surprising thing was that so many people lived in enclaves of comfort without understanding that folks just five, 10 miles away live in Third World circumstances when you talk about health outcomes, life expectancy.
It was surprising to note that there is a $15 billion cost in our regional gross domestic product for these racial inequities that we see in our community. It was surprising to note that we are 42nd among the top 50 metropolitan areas in the nation in economic mobility, the capacity for a child to do better than their parents.
And so, with those surprises, I was shocked a little bit as we went throughout the process as this — that there are so many people of such goodwill to be able to come around these issues when they came to know about the issues, when they recognized the challenges, to actually be a part of the process.
And so we're pleased that the process, this bold experiment and inclusive democracy has produced a result in this report, in these recommendations. And now it's time to aggressively pursue them through activism, advocacy and agitation, quite frankly, of power structures that can make them happen.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Maria Nadal, was this — were the findings here about the structure of way the city, the state, the region is structured, or is it about something more profound than that?
MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL (D), Missouri State Senator: It's absolutely about how this system is structured.
And let me just tell you, Gwen, what we're dealing with right now is the fact that African-Americans are at the bottom of the economic food chain. They're in the mud. They're right alongside catfish in the Mississippi.
So we have to do something that's different. We have to really look at how our system is structured. Yes, we have been looking at racial inequity for a very long time, if you look at President Truman's freedom from fear. We were looking at racial inequity in 1968, when you had President Johnson looking at inequity in the Kerner Commission.
And 47 years later, we're still talking about racial inequity, which means we still have environmental inequity, social inequity, economic inequity. And so because all of these things still are existent and around means that there is something fundamentally wrong and flawed in the structure in which we are operating right now.
GWEN IFILL: Reverend Wilson, let me tell you about two things I found in the report that surprised me. One is that there is a 40 percent difference — 40-year difference in life expectancy based on what zip code you live in.
And the other is that 75 — that black motorists are 75 percent more likely to be pulled over than motorists of the majority race. I — those things surprise me. So what do you do about that? What does the commission report do to address those kinds of issues?
REV. STARSKY WILSON: Yes. The commission report calls for several things, particularly as it relates to policing.
It calls for us to upgrade to make more robust our racial profiling law in our state. It calls for a database on police incidents, so that we actually have the data. That's the great value of this conversation, is that we have accumulated some data to hold people accountable. That should be happening in an ongoing way as relates to police stops in our state, so we can see where inequities lie geographically and demographically.
The application of a racial equity lens to the various areas of the report is one of the things that we think should be happening with legislation at every level. But, ultimately, this takes us back to what brought us here. It brings us back to this issue of police accountability and oversight, police training.
And so we have made a call as far back as April, actually, to increase the required training under the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission in the state of Missouri for officers in counties of our size that they should go from 41 required hours to 120 required hours in mandated training in use of force, cultural competency and officer wellness.
We're pleased to know that the commission — that the post-commission is moving towards that. And with a December 1 deadline, we look forward to hearing more about that. But we need to see more police accountability and oversight moving in Saint Louis County, in other areas throughout our region, as it has been won in the city of Saint Louis over the course of the last 12 months, after folks have been fighting for it, quite frankly, for more than 25 years.
GWEN IFILL: Well, Senator Chappelle-Nadal, picking up on that point, you are an elected official. You know the difference between recommendation and implementation. How tough will it be to take the next steps called for in this report?
MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL: Well, I have to tell you, I actually pre-filed a lot of this legislation last December.
When it comes to body cameras, I filed that. When it comes to ensuring that police officers get proper training, I filed that. Special prosecuting attorney in these kind of cases, filed that legislation. Upholding our constitutional rights, I filed that legislation.
So I have been dealing with this for quite a long time. We were very, very close to passing the deadly force law. As you may know, Missouri is 30 years out of compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in not only 1985, but also 1989, which is the upgrade on what our deadly force is supposed to look like legislatively.
So I'm going to continue fighting for many of the suggestions that were recommended that came out today. A lot of this, I have already filed, but there were some good suggestions that I didn't file that I want to follow up on, but I really want to ensure that we are looking seriously at this.
Literally, we have been talking about racial inequity for decades, and Starsky is absolutely right. It's going to take agitation. And we cannot be — succumb to different interest groups that are out there who are trying to water down this movement, this change in the system that is so needed right now, so that individuals can have trust.
Well, one of the things I would follow up on, though…
GWEN IFILL: Go ahead.
MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL: One of the things I would follow up on, though, has to do with the environment and housing, as well as education.
I'm ranking member on the Education Committee. I also serve on my local school board simultaneously. And I feel as though the focus just on early education really was a short step. That's low-hanging fruit, to invest in early ed. But we have to focus on children who are at risk who are in middle school and who are in high school who potentially can end up in the pipeline to prison.
The report didn't talk about that. And there are other environmental issues.
GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask Reverend Wilson about, because one of — you call for agitation. The senator calls for agitation. I don't think anybody watching from around the country would say there has not been enough agitation in Ferguson.
What stops this report from ending up on a high shelf covered in dust?
REV. STARSKY WILSON: First, I say to the senator, I wholly agree with her, investment and engagement there in early ed.
What we have taken is a broad approach to young people, understanding that academics are one indicator of their well-being, but they're not the only indicator of their well-being, and stage-appropriate development is what we're calling for in the report.
There's actually a very…
GWEN IFILL: But I really want to ask you about that, the dusty shelf idea, before we run out of time.
REV. STARSKY WILSON: Yes, absolutely.
So, one of the things that we have done is made the report shareable, clickable, digital first, so that people can engage around it, so that they can come in and find a place for them to work in this.
Over the course of the next three months, we will be working to find a successor organization and intermediary to work toward this common agenda by setting up shared measurement systems, assuring mutually reinforcing activities from several actors throughout the area, and working toward driving continuous communication, which will include a policy strategy here.
GWEN IFILL: Reverend Starsky Wilson, co-chairman of the Ferguson Commission and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, and state Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, thank you both very much.
REV. STARSKY WILSON: Thank you for having us.
MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL: Thank you.