Courageous Conversations: Moving Past Ferguson

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- It's been months now since the shooting and outrage in Ferguson, Missouri.
While the discussion is still fresh, KOLR10 News thought it would be good to have some courageous conversations.

We're sure here at KOLR10 that you've had likely had several conversations on Ferguson. 
Some of you have probably discussed it on social media. 

We wanted to dig a little deeper and-without trying to offend anyone- see what we learned about our country and ourselves.

We had lengthy conversations with Cheryl Clay, President of the Springfield NAACP,   Chief Paul Williams of the Springfield Police Department, Byron Klaus with the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Wes Pratt, MSU Equal Opportunity Officer and Dorsey Levell,  former Exec.Director of the Council of Churches

Q:  Why was Ferguson so polarizing?  Why did it divide our country along racial lines once again? 

Cheryl:  "I think all the injustice and all the inequality had simmered in Ferguson for so long that it was like a powder keg that just exploded."
Byon:  "You have one of those moments in America where we are reminded of how stark the polarity is between the way the African-American population saw that event and the way many white Americans saw that."

In Ferguson, an unarmed black male, Michael Brown, is shot and killed by a white officer, Darren Wilson.
What really happened that day in August is still a matter of heated and emotional debate.

Dorsey:   "There's a lot of talking but no listening.  This case here exploded evidently just touching the fever at the right time."

Investigations began - a grand jury was convened.
No matter what nugget of news came out, nobody listened to one another.  Cable tv debated the smallest details endlessly.  Social media exploded with conflict.

Chief Williams:  "Things spin out of control very quickly...with inaccurate, incomplete information...or just flat out bogus information."
Cheryl:  "Everyone knew about Ferguson...if you never knew about Ferguson, Missouri, you did after a couple of days."

Ultimately, Officer Wilson is cleared of wrongdoing.

Q:  So why did Ferguson set America back and re-open scars?

Some called Michael Brown a thug, who disrespected the law.
Darren Wilson was a cop fighting for his life.

Chief Williams:  "It's always been a dangerous profession."
Dorsey:  "He wasn't quite the young man they wanted you to believe he was."

Others saw the vestiges of historical racism reignited.

Wes:  "The perception of many black people is justice was not going to be done...justice won't be done when there's a situation involving a cop and a black person..."
Byron:  "All too often there are these tragic situations occur which seem to the African-American community to demonstrate that nothing much has changed." 
Chief Williams:  "Race relations..a black-white issue...is probably not something we are going to resolve or will resolve in during my lifetime...we make inroads and we make progress but it is still an underlying issue in the United States..."

And the issue erupted on the streets of Ferguson.  Riots, looting, military style police, tear gas.
It quickly ignited a national debate, while the world watched on live tv.

Amazingly, there was no loss of life throughout the Ferguson riots.
No loss of life during the first days of rioting in August.
No loss of life with the grand jury verdict in November.

Q:  But what loss did our country endure?

Byron:  "We don't remember history well.  For white Americans we are quick to say well, we dealt with that stuff.  For African-Americans, all to often, they have forgotten the legacy of Rosa Parks. who responded to pure evil with resolve.  And with graciousness and paid a price that subsequent generations have forgotten."


Now that Ferguson has passed, other incidents continue to re-ignite these strong passions.
The fatal chokehold of a black man by police in New York.
The fatal shooting of a teen by Cleveland police pointing a toy gun made to look like a real gun.

Cheryl:   "Forty years ago I had the talk with my sons...to tell them how they were to act when they were stopped by the police.  I have a grandson who will be 21 this year. 40 years later I'm still giving that same discussion, because I want them to come back home to me at night."

Chief Williams:   "In some ways it's frustrating that people around the country are doing what they accuse police officers of doing all the time which is generalizing  and taking an incident or a particular person and saying that's how everybody is.  We guard against that in law enforcement, say everybody deal with each situation differently...and don't over-generalize because someone looks or acts a certain way."

Did any of our discussions on Ferguson move America forward?
Did any of us stop and think about our viewpoints, our mindsets? 

Wes: "It's easy to go out here and march and demonstrate and shut the freeways down, but going to work, dealing with the public policy issues, engaging people in your community, but how can we find a way to get past the bias?  How can we, how can I,  recognize the fact that I'm biased, so that I check how i react."

How we react will determine our future.

Dorsey:  "We'll have to work at it at both ends...we'll have to work on it from the blacks prejudiced against whites and the whites against blacks.  Cause it cuts both ways."
Byron: "There is no doubt that events like Ferguson, remind us that we have unfinished business."
Cheryl:   "You have to continue to have hope...because if you take away a hope and a dream...you have nothing. You have nothing left. So what does that say for our nation?"


Its easy to talk about race, but much harder to find solutions.

All this week and next, KOLR10 News hopes to get from the talking to the "doing" stage. 
We'll introduce you to some people who will share how to begin a courageous conversation.

 

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