The Ferguson Commission report, released this week more than a year after the St. Louis suburb ignited a national debate over police violence, calls for several straight-to-the-point criminal justice reforms.
The state, the report concludes, should establish a publicly accessible database tracking incidents when police use force. And the state's attorney general should step in as a special prosecutor in those cases that lead to death. Police should be trained, the report urges, on the "implicit bias" that shapes decisions by people who'd never consider themselves racist. The court system, meanwhile, should stop jailing residents for non-violent offenses, locking them away from the jobs they'd need to pay off their fines and speeding tickets in the first place.
One particularly blunt passage: "When someone is jailed for failure to pay tickets, the justice system has not removed a dangerous criminal from the streets. In many cases, it has simply removed a poor person from the streets."
The report, commissioned last fall by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to dissect to roots of Ferguson's unrest, is most compelling, though, for all the subjects in its crosshairs that seemingly have little to do with criminal justice. The commission also calls for the state of Missouri to expand Medicaid coverage (Missouri is one of 19 states that have refused to do so under the Affordable Care Act). It calls for a $15 minimum wage (the current floor in Missouri is $7.65 an hour).
It calls for a cap on the interest predatory payday lenders demand of the poor, and an end to childhood hunger. Also: smarter transportation investments, a commitment to early childhood education, and disciplinary reform in elementary schools. It even demands "inclusionary zoning" policies that would ensure more low-income housing gets built in neighborhoods with good schools and opportunity.
The report, nearly 200 pages long, fingers every interlocking policy problem — in education, housing, transportation, the courts, employment, law enforcement, public health — implicated in the racial inequality at the heart of Ferguson's unrest. Want to stabilize families in poverty? Rein in unregulated payday lenders. Want to enable a poor parent to get the job that will pay off the parking ticket that will keep her out of jail? Expand Medicaid so a single mom living on $10,000 a year can actually qualify for it (today in Missouri, unbelievably, she makes too much money).
Want to dissuade police departments from ginning up revenue off petty traffic stops that disproportionately impact minorities? Restructure how public services are provided so every micro-suburb doesn't need to fund its own police force. And so a driver with an expired tag doesn't get pulled over multiple times on the same trip as he drives through several jurisdictions (St. Louis County has 81 different municipal courts, and 60 distinct police departments).
This sprawling web — each system and institution is linked to others — isn't unique to Ferguson. That makes the Ferguson report a valuable blueprint for any place with persistent racial inequality, which is just about every place.