Instead of sending his attorney general, President Barack Obama should take a trip to Ferguson, Mo.
What better time than during Black History Month? Life has been more than upsetting since the Aug. 9, 2014, fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.
Obama could help calm recurring protests and forge a compromise in the Justice Department lawsuit filed last week against the mostly black St. Louis suburb.
Last month negotiators with the the city and Justice Department reached a tentative agreement to end civil rights abuses in which Ferguson police used racial profiling to violate the rights of people in the city of 21,000.
The agreement followed a Justice Department investigation of the city after Brown’s death. A separate investigation resulted in no charges against the white officer in the killing of Brown, who was black. However, the investigation of the Police Department pointed to the need for many changes in the city, where protests and unrest continued for more than a year and led to the Black Lives Matter movement bringing needed attention to police killings of black males nationwide.
Despite the tentative agreement ironed out after seven months of negotiation, the Ferguson City Council last week balked at accepting all of the conditions. A city analysis showed that the cost for the first year alone would be up to $3.7 million and subsequent years would cost $1.8 million to $3 million each. That raised concerns that the city could go bankrupt.
The agreement calls for more community policing, mediation and outreach efforts by the department with residents. It requires patrol officers, supervisors and jail workers to wear body cameras and microphones, and the equipment is to be inside police vehicles.
The cameras have to be recording on all traffic stops, arrests, searches and encounters with people. Part of the agreement called for the average pay and benefits for about 50 police officers in the city to increase by $14,600.
There is no question that racism is costly. The plan is meant to create accountability and credibility among the police, municipal court, city officials and the community they are supposed to serve.
The Ferguson council voted unanimously to accept the Justice Department’s proposals if federal officials agree to seven changes, including the deadlines in the agreement, no mandated salary increases for police and altering certain fees.
Rather than file a lawsuit, the Justice Department should have worked with Ferguson officials to find a way to help the city cover the expenses.
Obama should get involved. He should fly Air Force One into Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, lead a march from West Florissant Avenue where a lot of the unrest occurred to the street memorials on Canfield Drive, where Brown was shot.
Obama should meet with city officials, visit Ferguson churches, and talk with people at the bus stops and in their homes and workplaces.
Ferguson would be changed forever for the good. Obama would learn about the city, and then help forge a meaningful compromise to make Ferguson a model, diverse all-American community.
Gov. Jay Nixon and Missouri’s congressional delegation should also be on the ground to determine what state and federal aid could be allotted so Ferguson can comply with its obligation in the agreement with the Justice Department.
Everyone’s assistance could help show that black lives truly matter, and it is not just a slogan giving lip service to the recurring national problem of police killings of black males and black-on-black crime.
Obama could head back to Washington, D.C., afterward knowing that he lifted people’s spirits and provided hope for a community that desperately needs for things to change.