Ferguson, Mo., officials are not planning any kind of a memorial ceremony to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, but there will be a job fair and the Ferguson Youth Initiative, an organization that posts a list of Safe Places where children can run to avoid violence, will hold its monthly Youth Advisory Board meeting.
Other than that, will it be just another summer weekend in Ferguson? Don’t bet on it. Ferguson may not be sponsoring an official memorial event, but church leaders told Reuters they are expecting “hundreds, if not thousands” of people to come to their city to mark the passing of the 18 year old who was shot to death by a police officer in 2014.
While that is going on in the foreground this weekend, a debate rages in the background over how to pay for a new stadium to keep the Rams NFL franchise in nearby St. Louis.
Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman, thinks it is unconscionable that a judge would have ruled there is no need to ask voters for approval to put up $300 million in state and city bonds, along with tax credits and other incentives to help pay for the $998 million stadium.
He told the left-wing blog Think Progress that is especially repulsive given what happened in Ferguson one year ago.
“When you look at the city of St. Louis and our needs, especially post-Ferguson, and the world seeing the issues here in the St. Louis region, for anyone to suggest that the billion dollar investment we need to make is in a football stadium is crazy,” French said.
French would much rather see that kind of investment made in the schools of Ferguson, especially the Normandy School District where Michael Brown graduated from high school only days before he was killed.
“Those of us who represent neighborhoods who have been struggling for many years, we know that people here have long felt abandoned and the issues that really mean life or death to them aren’t given the same attention by city leaders and state government,” French said.
The Normandy School District is in such bad shape that it lost its accreditation.
Three years ago, the school reported 285 discipline incidents that included the factors of drugs, weapons, and assaults. State educators said that might have been only a fraction of the cases because most go unreported. At any rate, there was only one other school in all of Missouri that was more violent in 2012.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in May that officials from Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to local school board members said they were ashamed at what was happening in the classrooms and hallways of Normandy High.
“If you have any sense of decency — shame is all you can feel if you allowed that to happen,” said Mike Jones of St. Louis, state board vice president. “Disappointment is too mild. We all ought to be ashamed. I am. There’s no excuse for it happening. There’s no excuse for not knowing about it. There’s something fundamentally wrong with a place that permits by omission or commission this set of circumstances.”
So, Alderman French wonders, how can you justify pumping $300 million into what could be a quixotic effort to keep an NFL franchise in town, when Normandy High School is happening in St. Louis’ backyard?
Well, it doesn’t sound like much compared to the $300 million that could be invested in a new NFL stadium, but Gov. Nixon has committed $1 million for “an intensive reading instruction program” in the Normandy District and the equally troubled Riverview school system.
Nixon also met with St. Louis-area education leaders Aug. 4 to receive an update on efforts to improve the educational performance of the Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts. In June, Nixon announced St. Louis-area superintendents would provide a range of resources aimed at ensuring all students “receive a quality education and putting Normandy and Riverview on a path to regain state accreditation.”
“Education leaders in this region have stepped up, in real and specific ways, and marshaled their collective resources to improve opportunities for students in struggling school districts,” Gov. Nixon said. “In doing so, they are sending a clear message that this is one region where every child matters and where all students deserve an equal opportunity to succeed.”
So, there is that. But, still, plenty of people are worried that the simmering pot of Ferguson is about to boil over as the 21,000 residents and who knows how many out-of-town activists will mark the death of Michael Brown.
The St. Louis Police Department will have officers on duty this weekend in Ferguson, to help the smaller department that was overrun by protestors in the hot, steamy days of August 2014.
Ferguson officials said they have been meeting with representatives of groups that plan to stage protests and the Greater St. Mark Family Church has been holding “de-escalation” training sessions to help people prepare for clashes with police.
“We are not anticipating any violence,” Pastor Tommie Pierson Sr. told Reuters. “However, you have to always be prepared.”
Ferguson and its residents are also going to spend this weekend like they have spent every day of the past year: rebuilding after months of riots that ripped apart the fabric of their lives.
Soon they will have this: the New York Times reports the community is getting its first Starbucks.