Remarks by Gov. Nixon at the Ferguson Commission meeting

September 14, 2015
“The way to prove this work means something is to do something,” Gov. Nixon says
St. Louis, MO

Below are the prepared remarks given by Gov. Jay Nixon today at St. Louis Community College – Florissant Valley, at a meeting of the Ferguson Commission, in which the commission released its final report.

Good afternoon.

On behalf of Missourians here and all across our state, I want to thank each and every member of the Ferguson Commission for your unflinching courage at a moment of reckoning for our state and our nation, for your integrity, and for your dedication to transformational change.

I would also like to thank Starsky and Rich for their commitment to the future of this region, and their outstanding stewardship of the commission.

This is a remarkable mix of folks, and that was by design.

More than 300 citizens throughout the St. Louis region applied to be on the commission.

We wanted to put together a group of individuals with perspectives and life experiences that represented the diversity of the region – racially, demographically and economically.

Authentic. Credible. A group that, as a whole, would equal more than the sum of its parts.

And we found it in a Commission that includes cops and CEOs, protesters and professors, business owners, ministers and non-profit leaders.  

You are this community.

This work would not have moved forward without the exceptional gifts each of you brought to this process - the gifts of passion and compassion, wisdom and empathy, impatience and steadfastness.

Because of those gifts, the people in this region embraced the process, knowing that the journey of these past 10 months would not be an empty exercise.  

Their faith in you gave them the courage to share personal struggles with some of the most deep-rooted and difficult problems facing our nation, in the hopes that they would lead to real and lasting change.

I remember the day last November when we gathered for the first time at the Missouri History Museum.

We were still reeling from the unrest following the death of Michael Brown and bracing for what might happen next.  It was a flashpoint that ignited protests and soul-searching across the nation.

But here in Missouri, we listened, we learned from one another, and we are getting better.

We transformed the angst and pain of protest, and are now embarking on a path toward progress together.

I am more hopeful than ever that the people of this region will embrace positive change, and emerge stronger and more united than ever before.

It has not been easy. Change is hard.

The challenges of Ferguson are the same challenges that have driven our nation for hundreds of years, in the struggle for equality and justice.

But what has emerged so clearly in the past year is a mutual, abiding commitment to the people and communities of this region.

Even in our most contentious moments, we have begun to work in good faith with the thousands of ordinary men and women who want to be a part of making things better.

Good faith - it’s not a phrase I use lightly.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  So the good book says.

Working in good faith means working in a hopeful spirit. It means believing that things can change, even if we can’t quite see the shape of that future clearly.

Faith comes more easily to some than to others. As we have seen throughout the past year, there have been doubters and cynics. That’s to be expected.

The way to prove this work means something is to do something.

And much has already been done.

The Commission created a protected space, a ‘kitchen table’, where all members of the community could air their concerns openly. Some experiences that had only been spoken about privately were shared publicly for the first time.

People quickly learned three things - first, that they were not alone, second, that their voices would be heard, and third, that their concerns would be taken seriously.

That is the power of bearing witness.

Those conversations brought deeply entrenched issues to the surface, ranging from long-standing injustices in our municipal court system, to the lack of trust between law enforcement and some parts of the community, to the need for greater personal responsibility in keeping our families and our streets safe.

We need respect for the men and women of law enforcement who perform very difficult jobs.

They care deeply about the communities they serve. They know they need trust to do their jobs effectively.

But trust is a two-way street.  When we challenge the actions and attitudes of others, we also must look inward and challenge our own behavior and beliefs.

The Commission provided a forum and a solution-oriented focus that built momentum and generated political will for meaningful reform. That galvanized the region and the state to act.

For example, we passed sweeping municipal court reforms – historic legislation that will ensure that municipal courts fulfill their original and intended purpose: protecting and serving the public.

We created the Office of Community Engagement, which over the past year has helped empower at-risk youth, including a Summer Job League for thousands of young people in St. Louis and Kansas City.

We provided an additional $1 million to promote literacy for children in the at-risk school districts of Normandy and Riverview Gardens. 

Today, an unprecedented collaboration among more than 20 St. Louis-area school districts is providing resources and support to help these struggling schools and the thousands of children who attend them. 

In addition, last month, I also announced an effort to strengthen law enforcement training standards through improved tactical training, fair and impartial policing, and a greater emphasis on the health and well-being of officers. 

My Director of Public Safety, Lane Roberts, and Captain Ron Johnson, Chairman of our Police Officer Standards and Training Commission, are leading this effort and will deliver their recommendations to me by December 1st.

Is there more to be done? Yes.

That’s why I’m looking forward to reviewing the recommendations and priorities in four key areas that emerged from the countless hours of discussion and deliberation:

  1. Justice for all;

  2. Youth development;

  3. Opportunity to thrive; and

  4. Racial equity.

I commit to you today that these efforts will not be in vain.  Our journey will continue.

Through the sheer force of our collective will, and our personal acceptance of responsibility for our communities’ safety and wellbeing, we will keep moving forward – together.

We are engaged in nothing less than the unfinished work of perfecting our democracy to comport with the principles on which it was founded. 

Together, we will lead St. Louis, our state, and our country toward a brighter future of justice and opportunity for all.

I could not be more proud of our state and this region for embracing these challenges.

Where others have stepped back, Missourians have stepped up, setting an example for the rest of the nation.

And we will continue to do more.

We will keep talking, keep listening, keep learning and keep moving forward.

Thank you.