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9 august 2014

What happened to Ferguson in the year since Michael Brown was killed?

“Everyone’s listening now.”

Ferguson Year Later A marker in the shape of a dove shows the spot where Michael Brown was shot on 9 August 2014. Associated Press Associated Press

A YEAR AGO, most people had never heard of the St Louis suburb called Ferguson.

But everything changed on 9 August 2014, when a white police officer named Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.

The street confrontation on that day launched the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Now the city, and the streets themselves, look much different.

Ferguson has a new police chief, a new city manager and a new municipal judge — all blacks who replaced white leaders.

All Ferguson police officers wear body cameras. The city council has new members, too, several of whom are black.

Mayor James Knowles III acknowledged that events after Brown’s death exposed divisions that had long existed.

For whatever reason in the past — either through lack of communication, lack of outreach — there were segments of the community that really felt like they were disaffected and not really part of the community.
I think a year later, what you see is a community that’s much more engaged, wholly engaged.

Adrian Shropshire, 62, and many other Ferguson residents applaud the changes, especially those aimed at overhauling the police force.

“When it comes to the community and law enforcement coming together, we’ve both dropped the ball,” said Shropshire, who is a black retired carpenter and runs a non-profit job-training effort.

Most conflicts start with not listening. Everyone’s listening now.

Ferguson Year Later A Ferguson police Sergeant wearing a bodycam. AP AP

Wilson is long gone, having resigned in November, shortly after a St. Louis County grand jury cleared him of wrongdoing.

As revealed in a recent interview with the New Yorker magazine, he now lives almost in hiding on the outskirts of St Louis.

In March, the U.S. Justice Department found no grounds to prosecute him.

But at the same time, the government issued a report so critical of Ferguson’s police and municipal court system that it hastened an upheaval in the town of 21,000 people, two-thirds of them black.

Within days of the federal report, top city officials resigned. The city chose the new judge, city manager and police chief on an interim basis.

Two of the three city council members elected in April also are black, so blacks now hold three of six seats, compared with a single seat prior to the election.

And the city has made it a priority to recruit more minority officers.

Within weeks of Brown’s death, Ferguson police began wearing body cameras donated to the city.

Ferguson Year Later A makeshift memorial for Michael Brown at the spot where he died, on what would have been his 19th birthday, in May 2015. Associated Press Associated Press

But some residents question the improvements. Emily Davis, 38, says she has seen little change for the better, especially along the busy roadway that was looted and burned.

People are still being targeted by police officers. If you talk to people who live on West Florissant, that is still happening.
Our city government has not become any more communicative. They have not made any attempt to engage in dialogue — meaningful dialogue — with the citizens, which is not any different than it was a year ago.

In May, on what would have been Michael Brown’s 19th birthday, family and community members cleared out a collection of stuffed animals, candles and other trinkets that for months served as a shrine in the middle of Canfield Drive, the site of the shooting.

A permanent plaque in his memory was installed nearby.

Ferguson A protester is taken into custody on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, last November. Associated Press Associated Press

Tim Fitch, Rodney Crim Two men pull up weeds and pick up rubbish on West Florissant Avenue last month. AP AP

Just half a mile away, the site of a QuikTrip that was looted and torched a night after Brown’s death is being transformed.

The site that had been the nexus of protests will become an “empowerment” centre destined to offer workforce training and employment placement for under-served young people.

Elsewhere, major employers are hosting job fairs, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis is offering scholarships, all with a focus on helping minorities find better jobs.

Several businesses closed after the riots of August and November. Boarded-up buildings remain along parts of West Florissant Avenue.

Others reopened, but recouping clientele has been slow.

West Florissant is poised to get $37 million in upgrades. The improvement plan is expected to include bricked pavements, bicycle lanes, stylish lampposts and landscaping.

Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, a black Democrat from St. Louis and a frequent Ferguson protester, said she has seen “drastic” improvements in the community. She called the response to Brown’s death a “defining moment in American history.”

The cries from the people — it didn’t land on deaf ears. They rose up and they did something that was very significant when it comes to race relations in America.
And it was a great thing.

Contains reporting by the Associated Press.

Explainer: What is happening in Ferguson, Missouri?>

Read: Irish playwright embroiled in controversy over play about death of black teen>

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