Michael B. Coleman commentary: Ferguson has important lessons for cities nationwide

Like most Americans, I am deeply saddened and troubled by the events in Ferguson, Mo. As a mayor, I am painfully aware that racial tensions have the potential to boil over in any city, including my own.

I am extremely proud of the positive way in which people of different races, ethnicities, nationalities and cultural backgrounds live and work together in the city of Columbus. But no city is immune to the raw emotions that can be unleashed by a single incident.

There is no textbook way to respond to a community crisis such as the one sparked by the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager shot by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9.

But the book has now been written by Ferguson city officials on how not to respond.

While I am certain that the vast majority of Ferguson police and city personnel are decent, caring people, the impression that has been left with the rest of the nation is of a bureaucracy that is insensitive, deceptive and incompetent.

What we see in Ferguson is an overwhelmingly white police force without a clue of how to deal with the black residents they are pledged to protect and serve. In the absence of open communication, there is fear, mistrust and hostility.

This is why we must never shy away from the topic of race. If racially charged issues are not discussed openly, they will fester and infect the entire community. And if we do not talk about race during times of relative tranquility, then by the time a crisis comes, it already will be too late.

To build trust between the police and the black community in every city in America is both essential and extremely difficult to achieve because of the history of this dynamic in America. Trust will not be created overnight; it must be earned over time.

The failure to build this trust is tragic for the people of Ferguson, who are in desperate need of strong, compassionate and transparent leadership at this time. But it is instructive for the rest of us, some of whom may ourselves be similarly tested someday.

Ferguson reminds us why it is important to respect our residents’ First Amendment rights of speech and assembly. While Columbus, thankfully, has not been faced with protests on the scale of what Ferguson is dealing with, our police are known for treating demonstrators with respect, interacting with them and allowing them their space. To greet protesters with riot gear and weapons drawn only increases tensions — and potentially provides gasoline for the fire.

Ferguson reminds us why it is important to insist on a diverse safety force. Those who have argued that the recruitment of African-Americans here in Columbus serves no substantive purpose now have the harsh example of Ferguson to refute them. The city of Columbus is not where we need to be in this regard, which is why we have stepped up our efforts to recruit qualified women and minorities to our public-safety forces. We do this not in pursuit of an arbitrary percentage but because a Police Division that doesn’t reflect the diversity of the community can result in resentment and distrust. And diversity makes for a stronger and better Police Division.

Ferguson reminds us why it is important to couple strong police enforcement with strong community outreach. Our police use aggressive tactics that lead to arrests and seizures of guns and drugs. They also interact with residents through neighborhood bicycle tours, block-watch meetings and individual conversations. We do this because our residents will work with our police if they have positive relationships with them.

Ferguson reminds us why it is important to prevent violence by addressing the root causes of crime. We’ve created a violence deterrence initiative through which trained youth-intervention specialists engage young people on the streets to steer them from bad choices, while offering positive alternatives.

I do not congratulate myself for achieving all our goals through these efforts. On the contrary, Ferguson reminds me that we are imperfect as a city, and we have much more to do.

I would be naïve to presume that a crisis like the one facing Ferguson city officials today could never happen here.

We must not only learn from Ferguson’s mistakes but also ask ourselves each day whether we’re doing all we can to earn the trust and confidence of our residents.

Michael B. Coleman is mayor of Columbus.

Birmingham mayor passes the civil rights movement torch to North County

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)– The mayor of Birmingham, Alabama came to St. Louis Friday to meet with African American mayors in North County where he called for dialogue and action.

William Bell is president of the African American Mayors Association.

In the 1960’s, his city played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement where peaceful protest was met with violence and hatred.

Mayor Bell described his meeting as a passing of the torch.

Bell says his association plans to put together a plan to help cities address the issues facing African American youth here and across the country.

AAMA President, Birmingham Mayor William Bell to Travel to St. Louis County, MO to Discuss Situation in Ferguson

mayorimageWashington, D.C. – August 28, 2014 – William A. Bell, Sr., mayor of Birmingham, Alabama,Birmingham, Alabama mayor William Bell and president of the African American Mayors Association (AAMA), will be traveling to St. Louis County on Friday, August 29 to discuss the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri with officials and residents at the request of the Board of Trustees of the AAMA. He may also attend a rally in Clayton, Missouri.

As the leader of the nation’s only organization exclusively serving black mayors and the top elected official of one of the key cities involved in the Civil Rights Movement, Bell is uniquely qualified to offer perspective on the unrest, and strategies for reaching peace in Ferguson and other cities affected by this and similar tragedies. The goal of the visit is to begin to develop a tool-kit of strategies to prevent similar occurrences in communities across the United States.

The African American Mayors Association issued a statement Aug. 13 regarding the tragic death of Michael Brown and the resulting civil unrest.

About the African American Mayors Association
African American Mayors Association (AAMA) is the only organization exclusively representing African-American mayors in the United States. African American Mayors Association exists to empower local leaders for the benefit of their citizens. The role of the African American Mayors Association includes taking positions on public policies that impact the vitality and sustainability of cities; providing mayors with leadership and management tools; and creating a forum for member mayors to share best practices related to municipal management.

Media Contact:

Marlena Reed, communications 21
mreed@c21pr.com, 404.814.1330

AAMA President, Birmingham Mayor William Bell To Travel to St. Louis County, MO to Discuss Situation in Ferguson

 

William A. Bell, Sr., mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, and president of the African American Mayors Association (AAMA), will be traveling to St. Louis County on Friday, August 292014, to discuss the recent events in Ferguson, MO with officials and residents at the request of the Board of Trustees of the AAMA. He may also attend a rally in Clayton, MO.

As the leader of the nation’s only organization exclusively serving black mayors and the top elected official of one of the key cities involved in the Civil Rights Movement, Bell is uniquely qualified to offer perspective on the unrest, and strategies for reaching peace in Ferguson and other cities affected by this and similar tragedies.  The goal of the visit is to begin to develop a tool-kit of strategies to prevent similar occurrences in communities across the United States.

The African American Mayors Association issued a statement Aug. 13 regarding the tragic death of Michael Brown and the resulting civil unrest.

 

Michael B. Coleman commentary: Ferguson has important lessons for cities nationwide

Michael B. Coleman commentary: Ferguson has important lessons for cities nationwide

Ferguson Update – From the White House Office of Public Engagement

Dear Friends,

We know that there was great interest in the call yesterday and wanted to send follow up information to make sure you all have the latest, whether or not you were able to join. This was a call that included all of our national stakeholders so everyone had the opportunity to hear directly from Attorney General Holder on the Ferguson, Missouri situation.

The following is a recap of information on Ferguson:

· The President has closely monitored – and been briefed regularly on – the situation in Ferguson and the Department of Justice has opened an independent, federal civil rights investigation into the death of Michael Brown.
· Attorney General Holder will travel to Ferguson tomorrow to meet with the FBI agents and DOJ personnel conducting the federal criminal investigation and to receive an update from them on their progress. Today, Ronald Davis, the director of the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) traveled to Ferguson
· The President underscored that the majority of protesters are peaceful but a small minority of individuals are not – and they are only dishonoring the memory of Michael Brown. He also reiterated that our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to report in the press must be safeguarded.
· The President spoke directly to Ferguson, a community that is rightly hurting. He called on Ferguson – and the United States – to move forward together as one united American family.
Following yesterday’s call with Valerie Jarrett and Attorney General Holder, the President delivered the following statement: http://youtu.be/1RdIZ-IKR-Q?list=UUYxRlFDqcWM4y7FfpiAN3KQ

In addition, the most recent official statement by Attorney General Holder can be found here:http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2014/August/14-ag-854.html

We understand your ongoing concerns about the recent events in Ferguson. If you have additional questions please emailafricanamericans@who.eop.gov

Best,

White House Office of Public Engagement

Speaking to U.N. panel, Mayor William Bell declares Birmingham a “thriving example of what change brings” following civil rights struggles

Speaking to U.N. panel, Mayor William Bell declares Birmingham a “thriving example of what change brings” following civil rights struggles

Statement by the President (Update on Ferguson, MO)

From the President’s Statement at 12:49 pm

…. [First comments addressed Iraq]

Now, second, I want to address something that’s been in the news over the last couple of days and that’s the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.  I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by the images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country, as police have clashed with people protesting.  Today, I’d like us all to take a step back and think about how we’re going to be moving forward.

 This morning, I received a thorough update on the situation from Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been following it and been in communication with his team.  I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate the death of Michael Brown, along with local officials on the ground. 

The Department of Justice is also consulting with local authorities about ways that they can maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation.  I made clear to the Attorney General that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened, and to see that justice is done.

I also just spoke with Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri.  I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened, and to find a way to come together going forward.  He is going to be traveling to Ferguson.  He is a good man and a fine governor, and I’m confident that, working together, he is going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way.

Of course, it’s important to remember how this started.  We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances.  He was 18 years old.  His family will never hold Michael in their arms again.  And when something like this happens, the local authorities –- including the police -– have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death, and how they are protecting the people in their communities.

 More info: http://time.com/3111730/barack-obama-ferguson-michael-brown/

African American Mayors Association Statement on the Deaths of Michael Brown and Ezell Ford

The African American Mayors Association (AAMA) offers its condolences to the family and community of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri who tragically died this week.  The AAMA echoes the words of President Obama in saying that his death is heartbreaking, and we applaud Attorney General Holder’s commitment to a fulsome review.  We also offer our deepest sympathies to the family of Ezell Ford in South Los Angeles, California, who was also fatally shot this week.  

Many cities of our member mayors have been impacted by these events and subsequent unrest in their communities.  We encourage those mayors, as well as leaders across the country, to lead our citizens in peaceful organizing, while also ensuring that these matters are thoroughly and justly investigated by law enforcement.  The AAMA will continue to keep these young men, their families, and their communities in our thoughts and prayers.

– AAMA President William A. Bell, Sr. & the AAMA Board of Trustees