Ferguson Residents Continue To Heal After Police Shooting

Mar 13, 2015
Originally published on March 13, 2015 8:00 pm
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We're going to spend some time now hearing Ferguson, Missouri, a community which is again trying to overcome tensions and find a way forward. In a few minutes, we'll talk with Ferguson's mayor about the Justice Department investigation and why he's not going to step down. There have been several top-level resignations since the DOJ report last week that found widespread racial bias in the city's police department and court procedures.

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Meanwhile, there are still no arrests in the shooting of two police officers who were standing guard at a protest rally this week. NPR's Cheryl Corley has been in Ferguson the last couple of days and begins our coverage. She reports community leaders are calling for healing and justice.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: It's been a striking difference in Ferguson since the shooting of the two police officers. It's been quieter outside the police station. But last night, protesters like Veronica Willfolk (ph) returned. Willfolk said it was critical that the demonstrations in Ferguson continue.

VERONICA WILLFOLK: No justice, no peace. When justice happens, healing can happen.

CORLEY: So what would the justice be?

WILLFOLK: The justice would be accountability. If the public is accountable, so is law enforcement. They have boundaries. There are rules of engagement with public and their judgment. They need to use it.

CORLEY: Across the street, the crisp, white shirt of St. Louis County Police Lieutenant Jerry Lohr stood out in the dark. The Missouri Highway Patrol and St. Louis County Police are in charge of security around protests now. And Lohr said some changes were made in light of the shooting. He says there was more distance between the police officers and demonstrators. And he pointed to a line of police cars set up strategically nearby. Lohr admitted the shooting did make for some nervousness.

JERRY LOHR: I wouldn't necessarily categorize it as taking it back to ground zero. I think that, yeah, obviously it creates a level of tension that dissipated over time. Again, I wouldn't categorize all protesters as out here to hurt police.

CORLEY: Many of the protesters say it's wrong to even think they may have been involved in the shooting. They said they were in harm's way as much as the police.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAYER VIGIL)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) We who believe in freedom cannot rest.

CORLEY: Down the street from the station, about 100 people gathered for a prayer vigil late last night. They came to condemn the wounding of the police officers and to call for justice. Reverend Renita Lamkin was among the ministers leading the prayers.

RENITA LAMKIN: Our desire is to see systems change, not officers injured. And in the name of Jesus, we pray a hedge of protection around every officer and every protester.

CORLEY: And Reverend Heather Arcovitch said Ferguson must work to pull together.

HEATHER ARCOVITCH: And we do not accept those who say it is police versus protestor, or youth versus adults, or white versus black, or female versus male. Lord, we are a community.

CORLEY: Ferguson has taken several steps since a Department of Justice report blasted the city, revealing evidence of widespread racial bias and civil rights violations in the police department and the courts. Six officials, including the city's police chief, city manager and municipal judge were either fired or resigned. The city also took steps to eliminate some of the crippling fees imposed on Ferguson residents. Activist Montague Simmons with the Organization for Black Struggle says the city council and the mayor should have made changes that had been recommended by the Department of Justice long ago. Simmons says it's not enough that the city's police chief is stepping down, he says so should Ferguson's mayor, James Knowles.

MONTAGUE SIMMONS: If the city's really going to experience what we've been fighting for, those folks who've been maintaining it and protecting the institution have to get out of the way.

CORLEY: And, Simmons says, what's still been so frustrating to so many is that former police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, has not faced any charges.

SIMMONS: Police are not held to the same standards as the people that they're supposed to be protecting. So when people die as a result of policing activity, no one's ever held accountable. That's got to change.

CORLEY: Neither the Department of Justice or the local grand jury found evidence that Darren Wilson should be charged with violating Michael Brown's civil rights. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Ferguson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.