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When Does the Ferguson Story End?

At least two things probably need to happen first

Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images

It was another day full of news in Ferguson, Missouri. The medical examiners who conducted a private autopsy on Michael Brown offered more details on their examination—and offered theories of how Brown, a black teenager shot by a white police officer, may have actually died. New witnesses and people with ties to the police came forward with their own, apparently conflicting accounts of what exactly happened a week ago Saturday. In Washington, President Obama gave some remarks, appealed for calm, and dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to visit the embattled city. Back in Ferguson, protesters marched peacefully—until the late evening, when police fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades into the small, lingering crowd. It’s not clear what provoked that response.

This kind of unrest can’t go on forever, obviously, and it may even be starting to subside on its own. Monday night’s confrontation between cops and marchers, although shocking to watch as it played out on CNN and other networks, appeared from afar to be less intense than the previous night’s clashes. But I suspect the community's anger won't ebb until at least two things happen.

First, and most obviously, the investigation of Brown’s death must produce some kind of concrete result. And it will probably have to be the investigation that officials from the Justice Department are conducting. The people of Ferguson have absolutely no faith in the Ferguson police and, really, who can blame them? The police have a history of stopping and arresting African-Americans in numbers disproportionate to their presence in the population. And since the shooting of Brown took place, Ferguson police officials have provided very little information about their investigation—except to publicize a video that appears to show Brown robbing a convenience store earlier on the day of his death.

The second thing that probably needs to happen is some kind of formal change to police procedures in Ferguson. My colleague Danny Vinik today tells the story of a city that went through a similar ordeal: Cincinnati, in 2001, following the shooting of an unarmed African-American man by a white police officer. As Danny explains, city officials ultimately signed an agreement that altered police practices significantly:

Officers are now trained in low-light situations, like confronting a suspect at night in an alley, as was the case in Thomas’s death. The agreement also created the Citizens Complaint Authority to investigate incidents when officers used serious force. Most importantly, it instructed officers to build relationships with the community by soliciting feedback with residents and using all available information to find solutions to problems before necessarily resorting to a law enforcement response. The ACLU of Ohio, which was one of the signatories of the agreement, hails it as “one of the most innovative plans ever devised to improve police-community relations.”

These changes haven’t eliminated reports of racial bias and excessive force by Cincinnati police, Danny reports. But they’ve helped to improve relations—to create the kind of trust that does not now exist in Ferguson. That may not be sufficient to end the unrest, but it's probably necessary. 

Jonathan Cohn

Other news from Monday:

FERGUSON, THE REACTION: A survey found a stark divide in public opinion over Ferguson. When pollsters asked respondents whether Brown’s shooting raises racial issues, 80 percent of blacks said yes but only 37 percent of whites did. (Pew)

DEMOGRAPHICS: The U.S. is about to hit a major milestone. For the first time ever, according to another new report from Pew, a majority of public school students will be members of minority groups. But, as Emily Badger points out, that doesn’t mean classrooms will be more diverse. Schools remain more segregated than the population at large. (Wonkblog)

OBAMACARE: The health care law’s critics want to bypass further appeals of lawsuits challenging the subsidy structure, and take the case directly to the Supreme Court (Talking Points Memo)

CLIMATE: A small town in the Solomon Islands is relocating, in order to escape rising seas of the Pacific Ocean. It’s believed to be the first municipal victim of global warming. It will not be the last. (Reuters)

ENERGY: The Obama administration is readying its first rules on Arctic drilling. But drilling could start as early as next year, before the standards even take place. (Washington Examiner, Houston Chronicle)

Articles worth reading:

Reparations for Ferguson: "Black people are not above calling the police—but often we do so fully understanding that we are introducing an element that is unaccountable to us. " — A powerful essay from Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic)

This isn’t the 1980s all over again: Peter Beinart explains why conservatives are no longer afraid of being called "soft on crime." Hint: It's because crime has declined. (The Atlantic)

You’re probably a terrible investor: Americans believe real estate and gold are good long-term investments. Dylan Matthews explains why they're wrong. (Vox)

The unpredictable politics of immigration: Greg Sargent talks to some Democratic strategists, who think an executive order on deportations could hurt some vulnerable Senate candidates—but possibly help others. (The Plum Line)

No, Hillary doesn’t have a Mitt Romney problem. Annie Lowrey points out why: She’s not going to run on Romney’s agenda. (New York)

Maybe he’s fast thinker: Florida Governor Rick Scott, under fire for denying climate science, gave scientists a chance to convince him that climate change is a problem. Length of the briefing? 30 minutes. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

Conservatives will like this one. Medicare Advantage plans cost more than traditional Medicare, but some recent studies suggest they also deliver higher quality. Does that mean the plans are worth the extra funding after all? Austin Frakt examines the evidence. (New York Times)

Stories we’ll be watching:

Ferguson, again.


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