By Jacqueline Shultz
The community of Ferguson is in turmoil and it’s not just because of recent protests and civil unrest. For many years, community members have felt they are part of a declining municipality and faced dramatic growth in the wealth gap separating rich and poor. The community is generally characterized as being poor, useless, and jobless, with failing families.
Decades ago, those of color living in Missouri needed to protest against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. In the 21st century, a double-sided veil continues to prevent full integration of this community, keeping it citizens from really understanding and connecting with one another.
The color veil blinding the community limits the ability of citizens to take control of their economic destinies, improve their finances, and community. The veil needs to be lifted so race issues can become the main target of discourse, including people of every color everywhere. Acknowledgement of the color line barriers all people face is the bitter medicine that the community must take to cure the disease that plagues it.
The cure in Ferguson is not simply seeking justice for Michael Brown, telling the truth, or justifying Officer Wilson’s actions. The cure will involve getting the community and police to act on fact, accept the judicial outcome, and then work to rebuild the disintegrated trust between the community and law enforcement. Those of color must realize there are resources, chances, education, and opportunities for developing a better leadership within their community.
What Ferguson Can Teach Other Law Enforcement Agencies
Agencies around the nation can learn from the response and actions in Ferguson. In this case, rioters hid amidst peaceful protestors to gain shelter, which forced law enforcement to treat the entire crowd equally. Military equipment, riot gear, tear gas, and SWAT were the necessary response to the criminal actions being conducted at the time.
However, once a riot is quelled, police agencies should deescalate their use of force; work with citizens by promoting their right to protest; and ask for citizens to report individuals who are seen breaking the law. This simple effort decreases the perceptions of a repressive police power on a deprived community.
It is critical for agencies to immediately begin efforts to rebuild trust between the agency and the community. Law enforcement leaders must provide assistance, support, reassurance, as well as immediate explanation of any delays during the investigation.
Departments should avoid brute force, stone-walled silence and justification rebuttals to avoid community perceptions of disrespect, disconnect, and disingenuity. Typical law enforcement training teaches that violence of crowds will continue to intensify if people legitimately feel as if their innate rights are being infringed upon through legal misdeeds.
After an incident of this nature, all agencies should review complaint processes, procedures, and crisis-management techniques. This includes establishing protocols and structures that are communicated to and embraced by the community.
Communication, trust, and outreach programs are the missing links that often facilitate community hostilities in economically deprived neighborhoods. The relationship between police and community must evolve. We must focus on all of the failures so we can understand how to be successful going forward.
About the Author: Jacqueline Shultz is a former law enforcement officer with more than a decade of experience including years of specialized training in all aspects of crisis management: crisis response, liability assessments, and tactical planning. She is wife to a police officer, mother, student, and is active in community service. Jacqueline holds a bachelor’s degree in International Business Administration and is currently finishing a master’s degree in Public Administration and Emergency Disaster Management from American Public University.