Bogged Down

Jewish Light Editorial

If you’re looking for a High Holy Days metaphor about the Ferguson Commission report, we’d say that it got stuck somewhere between a sermon and a useful plan.

That’s right. The huge set of calls to action, organized into almost four dozen recommendations setting forth ways that we can improve the region, is rabbinically aspirational in its sweeping nature. But it’s also entirely unwieldy and in some ways, counterproductive.

Within its four major areas for change — justice for all, youth at the center, opportunity to thrive and racial equity — the report digs into regional issues in so very many areas: policing, municipal practices, jurisdictional consolidation, education, economic justice, transit, hunger and then some.

It’s no doubt a comprehensive statement of our community’s needs, and for that it should be acknowledged and respected.

In other ways, it’s quite problematic. For by creating so many diffuse and in some cases nearly impossible expectations, we think the Commission let our region off the hook.

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That’s right. There’s far too much in this report. It reads like the Yellow Pages of change.

Don’t get us wrong. Most of the individual recommendations, when taken at face value, we agree with wholeheartedly. They are smart, they are thoughtful, and yes, if implemented, they would result in massive positive change.

But for a Commission that was convened to truly push action, we are skeptical that in offering a rather overwhelming set of suggested actions — longer than the menu at TGI Friday’s — we can prioritize and sequence the most essential changes we need.

Remember, the members of this commission represent no one. They were appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon, and while their recommendations will carry the symbolic weight of the community, the ability to effect them is dependent on others in virtually every instance.

The Commission, to its credit, identified the accountable bodies for each key item. That’s good. But think about the fallout from offering such a crazy big list.

When you throw items at a dart board, you are likely to hit some targets. So sure, it’s possible that the government agencies, legislative bodies, nonprofits and other institutions can bite off some of the “assigned” tasks.

But is that what we want? If history is any indicator, entities often try to pick off the lowest-hanging fruit, not necessarily those items that can best lead to lasting and constructive change. The prospect of a hodgepodge of efforts, focused on what’s easiest or more doable from a particular agency’s perspective, is likely to ensue. And to us that creates a significant issue.

It’s almost as if (without knowing its various members’ individual intentions) the Commission was worried that if it focused on just a few key items, it would be taken to task by excluding others. Or that if the scope was limited, it would be called out as a failure. So it covered myriad landscapes instead (one we would have liked to see some more aggressive commitment on is gun control and safety).

But if the Commission had no power to begin with, then why not be uncompromising and insistent about the few and most important immediate concrete and needed steps, whatever they may be?

Take consolidation as a critical goal, for instance. If we wrapped police departments together, we’d have better training and more consistent treatments. If we eliminated municipalities, we’d have a good chance to limit inequitable fines. If, for example, our community brought City and St. Louis County together, we could so much more easily tackle many of the issues on the Commission’s laundry list.

That’s just an example of how we might prioritize as a community, leaving the sub-issues for consideration and resolution by consolidated agencies. There are other good ways to focus as well. But for the grand sweeping change we need, citing a couple hundred items, requiring action from dozens of entities, just doesn’t do the trick. If anything, it takes our eyes off the big and most important prizes.

If you think that the first step is for the region to set forth its highest values and a plethora of priorities, then perhaps this report is sufficient for you. Though from our perspective, East-West Gateway and other agencies have been issuing those kinds of reports for years upon years.

But if you think that the goal of the Commission was to provide us with a clear and unequivocal direction, and insistence on doing anything it takes to stay on course, then we’re not optimistic of substantive success.

Though we surely hope we’re wrong.