The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., has reignited the fires of racial acrimony in America. His death remains a tragedy of unimaginable proportions to his family and friends. We cannot relieve the pain of these deaths, but reflecting upon it may help us improve our community.
After the shooting of the unarmed teenager, crowds exploded at a nearly all-white police force armed to defend against a terrorist attack of apocalyptic proportions. The massive police response focused the outrage over the death. The disproportionate response could have been anticipated since most of the officers do not live in Ferguson and appear to have little knowledge of the community.
That the intemperate police response was too much was shown when state trooper Capt. Ronald Johnson walked alone through the crowd to calm the community. Sadly, his efforts were undermined by the Ferguson police chief’s release of a grainy convenience store video purporting to show a theft by the victim. The result has been the calling out of the National Guard and martial law.
Can Galveston learn from this tragedy? The overarching lesson is that cultural divisions are alive and well in our country, schools and towns. The public schools have long been integrated, but the private and charter schools remain sharply divided. De facto segregation of towns compounds this. Some people would rather live next to a toxic waste dump than public housing. Until we acknowledge these divisions, they cannot be reconciled.
Our local government must work against these forces that divide us. Members with diverse cultural backgrounds must be included on the senior staff of the administration and its departments. Leadership sets the tone of inclusiveness or division. We have seen the civil and police leadership of Ferguson utterly fail to govern. Galvestonians require thoughtful policies that avoid provocative confrontations.
We must revisit our governmental policies. Inducing shock and awe may be appropriate in warfare, but it has no place in our community. Galveston has a history of overreacting to events. The policies that justify actions such as The San Luis wedding riot, confrontational clearings of The Strand after Mardi Gras and high-speed police chases need review. A first step is narrowing the extent of public events to manageable proportions.
The city of Galveston spreads police authority among the Police Department, Beach Patrol and Code Enforcement Office. These agencies must cooperate. For some visitors, our incomprehensible parking policies need to be explained in clear language rather than merely furtively handing out tickets. This is a natural task for the Beach Patrol. They are often the first face of the city that visitors see. Let them welcome and instruct our visitors.
Incoherent housing policies complicate the work of the police, which will worsen as scattered public housing becomes a reality. One approach would be for the police and city planning departments to work together on code enforcement. Community policing readily identifies housing that is being misused. Code enforcement can be deployed to require owners to bring the housing up to code. This means enforcing bans on housing inappropriate to residential neighborhoods.
We can learn by meditating on the death of the young man in Ferguson. We can succeed by improving the relationship between our city government and the community it is elected by and appointed to serve.