'It Gets Tougher': Ferguson Panel Shares Reform Proposals

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By Jon Schuppe

A panel that exposed the racial divisions that fed violent reactions to Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri urged politicians and the public on Monday not to let its 10 months of work go to waste.

"This was tough," the Rev. Starsky Wilson, a co-chairman of the Ferguson Commission, said at a news conference in which the group presented its findings to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. "The only promise we could make to the region is that it gets tougher."

The 198-page report, which Wilson described as "a path toward racial equity," calls for sweeping reforms of the local criminal justice system and documents deep racial and economic disparities that festered for decades before exploding on the streets of Ferguson after the Aug. 9, 2014 shooting of Brown, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer.

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The officer, Darren Wilson, was cleared of wrongdoing, but the riots sparked a national debate about the use of force by police and inequities in law enforcement, the courts and housing.

Rev. Wilson, and his co-chairman, Rich McClure, acknowledged that the panel couldn't compel officials to enact the changes it recommended. It will be up to the public to make sure their leaders follow through, they said.

"Tomorrow, the watch word is accountability," Wilson said.

Nixon, who appointed the 16-member panel, promised not to let the report gather dust. He said he hoped to prove to the world that the St. Louis region had learned from its mistakes and was working to overcome them.

"The way to prove this work means something is to do something," Nixon said.

Among the report's recommendations was the establishment of a state-wide and publicly available database to track police shootings, the creation of civilian review boards, and revamped police-training programs. It also called for the consolidation of law enforcement agencies and municipal courts.

The report also called for courts to stop incarcerating people for minor offenses, including those who end up in jail for not being able to afford fines. And it outlined economic, health and educational reforms that could ease inequality.