ST LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri’s governor on Tuesday named 16 members to a panel charged with making recommendations to fix social and economic inequalities in Ferguson, the St Louis suburb hit by protests since a white policeman fatally shot an unarmed black teen in August.
Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, took the action as the region braced for a decision by a local grand jury on whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Protests are expected, particularly if Wilson does not face criminal charges.
Nixon’s Ferguson Commission has until September 2015 to make recommendations after reviewing the social and economic conditions that contributed to the unrest triggered by Brown’s Aug 9 death.
“It is indeed progress that people in this group were chosen not in spite of dedicated service in law enforcement but because of it,” said the Rev Starsky Wilson, a black clergyman who is one of the panel’s two co-chairmen. “Others of us are at the table not in spite of our actions in the patriotic protests but because of them.”
Nixon, who is white, called the commission members tough, smart and empowered.
“They are united by the shared passion to promote understanding, to hasten healing, to ensure equal opportunities in education and employment and to safeguard the civil rights of all our citizens,” Nixon told a group of local residents, politicians and media.
Zaki Baruti, a leader of the Ferguson protest movement, said he approved of the commissioners chosen by Nixon, a body that included local clergy, a youth activist and law enforcement officials as well as business people.
“The commission in and of itself has fair representation,” Baruti said. “It just needs the powers that be to begin to deal with the clearly defined issues. You have a disproportionate number of white officers working in the community, you have an overabundance of unemployment, you’ve got poor schooling.”