>> This program is made possible in part by contributions to your PBS station from: >> They are powerful flashpoints in the American story, a divide along race and class, between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect.
>> Unarmed yet shot dead... >> A fatal police shooting of a 19-year-old African American... >> Violence that leaves cities in turmoil and Americans asking why.
>> (chanting) >> Hands up, don't shoot!
>> In the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown, how do we bridge that divide, make change and move forward?
"America After Ferguson," a PBS town hall meeting.
>> GWEN IFILL: Hello, I'm Gwen Ifill.
We are here tonight to continue a conversation, not to end it; to explore tough issues, not necessarily to resolve them; because history has shown us that when it comes to issues of race, justice and perception, the discussion never ends, nor should it.
The events we watched unfold in Ferguson made that clear.
>> You are unlawfully assembled.
>> Get him out of the car!
>> Michael Brown died of multiple gunshot wounds.
>> He put his hands in the air, but the officer fired several more shots.
And my friend died.
>> Our son was a good boy.
He didn't deserve none of this.
>> The officer that was involved in the shooting of Michael Brown was Darren Wilson.
>> We steadfastly believe that Officer Darren Wilson's actions on August 9 were warranted and justified.
>> The officer involved has not been charged.
>> Arrest him now!
Arrest him now!
>> Violence is not the answer.
>> One police officer caught on camera calling the protesters animals.
>> Please don't shoot me dead, I got my hands on my head!
>> We want this to be peaceful.
>> This is not a political issue to them.
This is their son.
>> I choose to support our police and our elected officials to execute a fair and law-based resolution.
>> What do we want?
When do we want it?
>> It's not about black and white, it's about right.
>> This attorney general and this Department of Justice stands with the people of Ferguson.
>> We are going to make this community whole, and we're going to do it together.
>> I'm truly sorry for the loss of your son.
I'm also sorry tt it took so long to remove Michael from the street.
>> I don't think we've really mourned the losses here.
>> We need justice for our son.
We need justice for our son.
(applause) >> IFILL: There is certainly much we do not yet know, but we do know this: the events of August 9 in Ferguson, just a few minutes from where we gather tonight, were not an anomaly.
From Los Angeles to Cincinnati, they explode time and again, rivet our attention with 24-hour coverage, then fade away.
The eruptions are about race, but not only about race; they are about justice, but not only justice.
They periodically inflame a persistent bruise that refuses to heal and certainly never will until we learn to talk to each other, not at each other.
So that's what we'll do tonight, and perhaps along the way, we'll seek out a clearer path to consistently becoming the nation we strive to be.
I implore you to join us in listening to regular folks, to politicians, to opinion makers, activists, professors, members of the clergy and law enforcement, locally and nationally.
We've come here to suss out truths-- plural-- because each of us has our own, and we will respect that.
You won't hear this conversation anywhere else.
You could also join us on Twitter.
As PBS NewsHour Weekend anchor Hari Sreenivasan live tweets throughout this broadcast, we want to hear your thoughts on the vital issues we'll explore tonight.
Use the hashtag #AfterFergusonPBS.
I want to start by talking to Reverend Traci Blackmon.
Reverend Traci Blackmon is the pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant.
Why don't you join me and talk to me a little bit about the interesting questions people have about you, who are in the middle of it all, is how much it changed you?
>> I don't think that any of us will ever be the same because of Ferguson.
I pastor a church in Florissant and I live in Florissant, but to see what was happening there, it doesn't just resonate with me as a pastor, but it resonates with me as a mother.
I have two black sons who are in their 20s, and so I know what it feels like to be targeted and I know what it feels like not to be heard.
As a professional in this city, I also travel between both sides.
Just like there are two Fergusons, there are two St. Louises, there are two Americas, and I travel between both of them.
So to see the great chasm that exists just between a few traffic lights that change the perception of everything that happens to you, my heart hurts.
>> IFILL: Even before Mike Brown?
>> Before Mike Brown, for all of my life, for all of my life, for all of my children's lives, for all of my parents' lives before me.
>> IFILL: Thank you.
I want to talk to Mayor Brian Fletcher.
Mayor Fletcher, you have been on the NewsHour, you started this campaign "I heart Ferguson," and do you see the same chasm that Reverend Blackmon sees?
>> I don't think unless you're African American that you can.
I do understand some aspects-- I grew up in poverty myself-- but I don't think you can understand the true plight that African Americans go through unless you are African American.
>> IFILL: Is it worth it to try?
I've tried that in 28 years of public office, but it is difficult, and we just had to keep...
It's like riding a bicycle up a hill, and if you stop, you go backwards.
Well, our hill just became a lot steeper, and that means we have to pedal even harder, but this committee, the "I Love Ferguson," is doing that.
We've done several outreaches in the last month, we have several more planned as well as raising money for the businesses along the West Florissant corridor.
Their insurance did not cover this because it was deemed a riot, and a lot of people haven't heard that yet.
>> IFILL: I want to ask you a little bit about your sense about how the world sees Ferguson.
When I was leaving Washington the other day, I told them I was coming to St. Louis and they said, "Ah, Ferguson."
Do you think that they have an accurate view of your community?
>> Well, no, they do not.
I would argue that we're one of probably the most progressive cities in the United States.
We have some wonderful programs, and that hasn't been heard.
But I think God has a reason for doing things.
I think Ferguson has the strength to go through this and then come up a better city as a result of it, learn from it, grow from it, and perhaps in a few years, we can be a model community for the rest of the country.
The true legacy will be how we take Michael Brown's tragedy and turn it into something productive and we accomplish something so his death was not for naught.
>> IFILL: For better or worse?
>> That's true.
>> IFILL: Johnetta Elzie, you're 25 years old and you decided that you wanted to see the place where Mike Brown died, and it affected you.
Tell me about it.
>> I couldn't believe that it happened in St. Louis.
I definitely couldn't believe that it happened in Ferguson, and I just had to go see it with my own eyes.
So we went down there about 9:30 and you could still see his blood, like as if he was still laying there.
It was deep, it was dark, and the whole community was still outside trying to process what had happened to them.
>> IFILL: Thank you, Johnetta.
>> You're welcome.
>> IFILL: These are issues that resonate far beyond Ferguson.
We are pleased tonight to be joined by the Democratic Senior Senator from Missouri, Claire McCaskill.
Senator McCaskill, you came right to Ferguson, it seems to me, right after this happened, and I remember some iconic photographs of you on the street talking to, hugging residents, and why did you...?
I guess I want to ask you, why did you feel your presence was necessary at that moment?
>> I wanted to express strongly that the visuals that we all saw across the country on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night, where there was such a strong military presence against a group of peaceful protestors that wanted to have their voices heard, their voices of anguish, and I didn't think they were being given the respect or the deference or the space they needed to do that with this heavy militarized presence of the police department.
So I wanted to come and express that, and it was in fact after that that Sergeant Ron Johnson came in and we did make an effort, I think a real effort, to be more respectful of the hundreds of peaceful protestors that were exercising their First Amendment rights, which is one of the most important rights we have in this country.
>> IFILL: Let me ask you a question.
In Washington, the first thing people do when something flares up, they hold a hearing.
But is this a national issue?
Is this something that can be even addressed or should be addressed on the national basis?
Or is this something that needs to be wrestled to the ground in communities?
>> Well, the most important thing that has to happen, I think, are the young people that have risen up, and I've met many of them, that had never really been active in their government before.
Keep in mind that this mayor and most of the City Council people in Ferguson ran unopposed.
In a community that's over 70% African American, there was only one candidate for the City Council that was African American, and most of them didn't have opposition.
So the young people that have made their voices heard, we've got to channel that.
What we need so much in this country, Gwen, we need young, African-American leadership on city councils, on school boards.
We need them making decisions for their communities.
And I think the lack of trust that is so palpable right now among the people in this room for their government, the way to fix that is to make their government look more like them.
>> IFILL: Well, you know, one of the things that was important to us tonight, Senator, was that we have a lot of young voices in this audience.
One of them actually started something called Dream Defenders, Phillip Agnew, and what he did was after the Trayvon Martin episode, which we all know about, the Trayvon Martin shooting, and everybody got worked up, right?
There were hashtags, there was emotion, there were demands for action, and he decided he wanted to act.
Phillip, tell me about Dream Defenders.
>> Dream Defenders came out of the realization, as the Senator said and other people in this audience know, that the people that are murdering the people in our communities are very organized, and so if you're going to mount an ample resistance to those forces, then you must be organized.
And so we started Dream Defenders with that in mind, knowing that it wasn't just about Trayvon Martin, but it's about a system of police repression, police harassment, racial profiling.
We've got a school-to-prison pipeline, we've got a war on drugs that's been afflicting, dividing and killing our community since it started.
We've got a war on the poor, we've got a war on immigrant communities, and if you're going to mount a fight against a system that has for 400 years perfected the method of repression of people that look like me, look like us, then you've got to have an organized force to fight against that.
So we started in Florida with that in mind.
>> IFILL: Do you see what Senator McCaskill talks about, the elective office as one way?
Because you just bit off a lot, a lot.
(laughter) >> Yeah, well, I think we're the people to do it.
And I think, you know, I think running for office is good, but one of the last things that Dr. King said before he died was that he feared that he had brought us into a burning building.
And so if you're getting people elected into a system that by its very nature was meant to cannibalize and kill communities, then you've only done half of the job.
And so I think it's a "Yes, and..." We need people that look like us, but black officers, I've had interactions with black officers that were way worse than white officers.
And so it's not a matter of just having a representative that's on the City Council or in the mayor's office or on the police force that looks like you.
They've got to come from the community, know the issues of the community, and then there's folks in the community that have got to remind them every day that we pay your bills and we're watching every single day to ensure that the platform on which we elected you with is followed, and also defend you when those people that seek to calibrate the system and right the system as it's been built seek to come at you for that office.
>> IFILL: Now here's the thing, Phillip... (applause) Everybody doesn't agree with you, everybody doesn't see the root of the problem.
Ross Kaminsky's one of them.
Ross Kaminsky writes for American Spectator, and he thinks in fact that a lot of folks should be looking at themselves in the mirror.
>> I want to be really clear on this because I agree with what the mayor of Ferguson said, that, you know, middle-class white guys like me haven't lived the African-American life.
That said, from what we see on the news, from what we read, there seems to be a real dearth of leadership among African- American young men, especially in their neighborhoods.
And the other thing is, if I could react to what Phillip said, I get the feeling, I understand this feeling of "this system isn't fair, it's biased against us."
But then when you start going to this idea, 400 years of repression in a system that's still designed to hurt us and still designed to keep us down, that starts feeling to me like racism against me just because of the color of my skin.
My parents weren't here 400 years ago.
My family arrived here way after the Civil War.
We had nothing to do with it, and I think that a lot of people in the rest of America feel like we're being blamed for things that we didn't cause and, in fact, that we would like to help, because we should care.
>> IFILL: For everybody who's laughing and snickering... (woman laughing) No, let me make a point to you.
St. Louis... there was a St. Louis County poll done just last week in which roughly 60% of the people said, "You know, I think that this is a problem," and those 60% of the people were black, and then 60% of white people said, "I don't think it's a problem."
There is a real, real true divide and a lot of people who agree with what Ross Kaminsky said.
So I want this conversation to take that into account as well, even if you disagree.
>> Gwen, can I just say I'm not saying that I don't think there's a problem.
I think there's a huge problem and I think that middle-class white people who don't live near black neighborhoods should understand that it's a problem for them too.
What I'm saying is that the language, when it starts being turned in a way that even just implies you're the problem because you're white, leaves...
It ends the conversation and removes any chance of a positive conversation.
>> IFILL: Is that what you're saying, Phil?
>> No, absolutely not.
So I never mentioned black, white or people.
I mentioned systems.
And so the arrest of Darren Wilson, if it happens, and the conviction of Darren Wilson, if it happens, though the system and the history would tell us that it may not, will not alleviate the problems that are happening here and that are happening around the country.
For example, I can sit here with a great amount of empathy and say every day, George Zimmerman woke up and saw that black men were evil.
Every single day since he was a little kid, he woke up and saw on television, on Cops, on the news, on his TV shows and videos that black men were filled with malice and had criminal intent in every movement that they made.
And so with a great amount of empathy, I could say that he may not be to blame for a very subliminal reaction to what he did when he saw a black man in a hoodie, right?
I'm not mad so much at George Zimmerman, I'm mad at a system every day that stakes its claim on saying that there's a certain segment of society that is a criminal element.
>> But George Zimmerman, on the other hand, as I recall, was a big brother to a young black boy, and I don't think there's any evidence to show that he had this pervasive, you know, approach that you're talking about.
>> I think we can't say it, but we can say the evidence does show that the images that are put forth of people that look like me, that have tattoos like me, that speak like me and come from where I come from scared the crap out of him every single day.
And no, he may have been a big brother, he may have been a great person with a spotless record, though we know he doesn't, but the society that we live in, and that is my issue.
Our goal with Dream Defenders is to be a catalyst for change in how we are represented in this society.
>> IFILL: I'm going to let you say one more thing, then I've got to move on.
>> Again, I think that we're not going to have progress on this until we really can have a conversation, and the language that needs to be used in the conversation needs to be language that isn't just pointing fingers at each other as long as we believe we're all people of good will.
>> IFILL: Well, we wanted to take this conversation beyond the walls of this theater.
As you can tell, it's a conversation that presses buttons.
So I went to New York recently to engage with four big minds: a playwright, Anna Deavere Smith; Wall Street Journal editorial page writer Jason Riley; City University of New York professor Candace McCoy; and historian Jelani Cobb.
>> I think we too often try to go to this idea of a conversation about race, but that conversation almost doesn't give credit to how big the crisis is.
The country is very divided, particularly in terms of opportunity and resources, so to think that we're all of a sudden going to be able to talk about something as serious as this and come to some real solutions I think sort of disrespects how grave the problem is.
>> There is a failure of public policy here.
There's a much broader problem of the grinding, relentless social control of poor and working-class communities: people of color, but generally poor and working-class communities.
>> IFILL: Jason, I covered... And you probably have lots of these conversations about race that we have periodically.
Why do we keep having them?
>> We talk about tensions between the police and the black community, but I think what's at the root of all that when you get to these events like Ferguson is black criminality, black crime rates.
So long as you have that reality and that crime statistic, you're going to have young black men viewed suspiciously by black people and white people.
>> It's very easy, I guess, to stand back and say, "Well, somehow or another, the people who are most commonly victimized in these circumstances are somehow deserving of it."
If you come from a community where you have never had reason to fear the police, then it would be easy for you to presume and certainly comforting to think that you live in a society where police will not shoot someone where it's unwarranted.
But for many, if not most African Americans, that is not a perspective that we can afford.
>> I'm hesitant to think this is about the cops and their behavior.
The law-abiding residents of these communities call the cops in these communities to protect them.
Let's not pretend, again, that our morgues and cemeteries are full of young black men because police are shooting them.
The reality is that other black people are shooting them.
>> IFILL: So what about this widely held notion that black victims of violence are more at risk from one of their own than at the hands of the police?
Tweet us your views at #AfterFergusonPBS.
And here in the theater, I'll ask Tef Poe to respond to that.
He is a rapper, an activist.
Kareem Jackson, you've heard some of the debate we've had.
Does it ring true to you?
>> I'd like to start off by saying I don't believe in the term "black on black crime."
If you want to discuss black on black crime, you also have to discuss white on white crime.
(applause) My earliest memories of the police are surrounded in fear.
I watched my father get pulled over when I was a toddler in the backseat of a car.
We were driving through a West County neighborhood and he got lost and he pulled into a driveway and a police officer pulled up and blocked us in, asked him what we were doing in the neighborhood, and he followed that up with "I know you don't live here," and we were simply lost.
And this is my very first memory of the police.
After the Ferguson incident, I can firmly tell you that I have zero faith in the police force.
>> IFILL: Zero?
I would rather die and go to hell than be arrested by a St. Louis police officer.
(applause) >> IFILL: I have to follow up on that, because how do you... Do you feel there's no one to protect you?
>> IFILL: That if something happened, if someone broke in your house, you don't dial 911?
I've had cases where a pistol was pulled on me, I call the police, they come to my house, they treat me as if I'm the criminal.
I called 911, you know?
And this happens all the time, it's not new.
And I think the problem in America is that we love to treat racism as if it died with Martin Luther King, it died with Malcolm X, it died with Medgar Evers, when in fact, the reason that they died is racism.
So, you know... And we have an issue where black people aren't that far removed from slavery, you know?
And I think that other cultures of people are allowed to establish themselves, they're allowed to deal with the issues of their culture and their community and their race appropriately, yet when it comes to us, we're told that, you know, "Get over it, stop killing each other."
I think that it starts with... it does definitely start with the black community, but, and it also starts with us recognizing, similar to what Phil said, the system is broken, right, and we've been screaming for 300 years, "Fix the system, please.
Help us fix the system.
Fix the system."
And I remember when we went to the Ferguson Police Department the day after Michael Brown was murdered, people were out there saying, "Well, you guys need to go vote."
Well, what about the young black people that are politicizing?
>> IFILL: So when Senator McCaskill says black folks need to get involved in the political process, you say no?
>> Well, what do you say to those of us that are?
I don't deserve answers for Michael Brown's death?
I voted for Barack Obama twice and still got tear-gassed.
>> IFILL: Senator, what do you say when people just reject out of hand that solution?
>> It is a valid method in this democracy to, in fact...
I mean, if you were on the Ferguson City Council, you would be pushing right now to fire the city manager because the city manager has not fired the police chief, right?
(applause) And that is a real, legitimate use of power that you would have an opportunity to use if you had been elected.
So I just want to make sure that we don't...
I get what you're saying, that it's awfully hard for everyone to flock to a system that they don't have faith in, but if you are part of that system and have power and you have a vote and you have the ability to say no or say yes, and for young people to reject that as an opportunity I think is a real missed opportunity.
>> But me being a part of the City Council does not eradicate racism.
>> IFILL: I want to go to Fred Bealefeld, who is from Baltimore, the former police commissioner in Baltimore, the city I used to live in, very divided city.
Most people in this room know more about Baltimore from The Wire than they do about Baltimore as a city.
But as a police commissioner in a very divided city, how do you respond to the kinds of conversation you've heard happening here?
>> My experience taught me that what people, all people in the city wanted was law enforcement people who were fair and ethical but were devoted to service.
And those were the folks that we tried to recruit and tried to identify inside the police department... >> IFILL: You mean hire as police officers?
>> Not just hire, but promote through the system, because police commissioners, police chiefs all across this country have great leverage to do a couple things.
One is they can promote, right?
They can promote from within the ranks and identify people who are dedicated to that mission.
The other thing they control is training: real, substantive training.
And so you have to...
It's not engaging people about race, it's engaging about what do you need in your neighborhood?
How can we help you live your life better?
>> IFILL: I want to talk to Jeffrey Blackwell, who's the police chief in Cincinnati.
In 2001, riots in Cincinnati spurred by very much the same thing, unarmed black man shot by a white cop, and now looking back over all these years, things are calmer, things are... You know, nothing's ever over, but how did you fix the problem, if you did?
>> Hard work and a collaborative spirit where we talked to the community and we know our community.
I've heard a lot of people so far talk about engagement and all of that, but it only matters if it's authentic, and we're a department of truth tellers, and we try to be as transparent as possible in the delivery of service at Cincinnati, and so that collaborative spirit is real.
>> IFILL: Well, what lessons did you bring from Cincinnati or could you bring from Cincinnati that would apply in such a different community?
>> Well, the first lesson is it's going to be tough.
It's going to be really tough to sit down at the table and talk to one another and get it all out in the open and reach some level of... First of all, you have to respect one another, and you have to increase the level of trust in this community if you are going to push past this moment in time and get better, and I know it will get better.
It's going to get better, but people have to trust one another and people have to change.
The police department has to change and the community has to change, and they have to come together and respect one another so that they can move forward.
>> IFILL: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Los Angeles.
Connie Rice is co-director of the Advancement Project and, among many things, sued the LA Police Department in the 1990s, and we remember what happened in Los Angeles in the 1990s.
As you watch what unfolded here in Ferguson, were there echoes that you recognized?
This is going to be repeated again and again, Gwen.
We're not going to get beyond this for, I would say, another hundred years or so, because it's a process.
It's learning to dance with one another post-slavery.
Wee still stuck stupid in many regards.
(applause) And I'm not being derogatory to anybody.
What I mean by that is that collectively, we can't quite face what we have in front of us, number one.
Number two, we're not willing to learn from the folks who have danced these dances and come out on the other side okay.
So number one, we know how to get out of these situations and how to avoid them because I have spent 15 years of my life waking up every day thinking of a new way to sue LAPD and the LA sheriffs, and I love doing it.
(laughter and applause) But Gwen, Chief Bratton told me, "Lady, put your complaint away and don't march into court again.
March into Parker Center, the headquarters of the police department, and help me change my cops."
Every day for 12 years, I have been inside that police department helping first Chief Bratton and now Chief Beck show his cops what it means to be trusted not by people who look like me, but by people who look like folks who live in Jordan Downs Housing Project, Nickerson, Imperial and Ramona Gardens.
We're talking about a revolution in American policing.
Now, the community is also going to have to open up a little bit.
You hear really hard, earned animosity.
These are folks who've been shot at unfairly by the police, they've been pulled over all the time, proned out, harassed.
You hear it.
You hear it in these young men's voices.
They are right.
We also must get it right.
We have to show them that it's worth engaging with the cops.
Not all cops.
There's some troglodytes I can't deal with either, but there is a really clear path for this, and you want to know what it starts with?
It starts with cops who have decided to change how they think.
I am stunned by the 180 degree turn.
Cops I used to...
If they weren't in my lawsuit, Gwen, I'd change the lawsuit to make sure they were in it.
It was war.
They were shock and awe, shoot-first-ask-questions-later cops.
Mean as vipers, okay, and a few of them racist.
Not all of them, but a few of them racist.
We used to hate each other.
Now we have each other on speed dial, and we are all about providing safety through service.
It can be done.
(applause) >> IFILL: Now, Connie has helped me.
We're going to take this to 30,000 feet.
We've been on the streets, we've been around the country, and we're going to go to the national level, because presidents dating back to Abraham Lincoln have wrestled with this difficult, this delicate issue of race we're talking about today.
My colleague and co-anchor Judy Woodruff spoke recently with one of them, former President Bill Clinton, who launched a White House initiative, you might remember, in 1997.
It was a big White House initiative on race, and he's remained engaged on the topic ever since.
>> After what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, where you had an unarmed black teenager shot to death by a white policeman, what do you think the aftermath of that in Ferguson and the reaction around the country says about the state of race relations in this country right now?
>> Whatever the facts are in the Michael Brown case, and I think it just has to be produced, pursued, find the truth, make the right decision, follow the do-right rule.
Apart from that, we've got to develop a process here for recruiting and staffing police departments, for campaigning and participating in local elections and for dealing with crises that is inclusive.
All over the world, the biggest problem people have is conflict versus inclusion, and that's what I took out of Ferguson.
The people that live there are good people.
They went out there trying to make a better life for themselves, and I believe most of the people in the police department are probably doing the best they can, but there is a gulf there.
We've got to bridge those gulfs in America again.
>> IFILL: In the interest of bridging that gulf the president talked about, NPR's Michele Norris started what she calls The Race Card Project in 2010 to help foster a candid dialogue about race among ordinary Americans.
Four years later, its website has received more than 60,000 contributions.
>> I invited people to share their thoughts on race or cultural identity, but the rules were you got one sentence, and that sentence could only have six words.
People were really candid.
They could pack a lot into just six words, and they could say things that they wouldn't necessarily say out loud, but eventually what I realized was that was like opening a spigot.
People would send in six words, and we began asking for additional comments, and then at that point, it was like, "Oh, well, let me tell you what I meant by those six words."
>> IFILL: Here are six words someone sent you from Wisconsin.
She said flatly, "I'm afraid of most black men."
>> Let's just think about that for a minute.
That's not the kind of thing you normally would hear someone say t loud, and if you did... you'd whip your head around.
"Did she just really say that?"
So she felt comfortable in saying that, but she explained what she meant by that, and she said, "I work in a library with a lot of African-American patrons, and I tense up when black men come in, especially if there's a group of them together."
>> IFILL: It's important to say at this is a white woman, and the next one I'm going to read is also a white woman, an older white woman from Minnesota.
She has a different flip on this question of how you deal with fear.
She said, "I smile at young black men."
>> She said, "I know that in my not very diverse community, they have to feel judged, feared and scrutinized by a lot of people who look just like me.
They are invariably friendly and pleasant in return.
Bless their hearts."
>> IFILL: Let's read what another person said to you.
This man is from Houston, and he wrote, "Lights flipped.
>> He purchased a red Corvette in the 1990s despite his mother's advice not to do this.
She understood that if he was driving around Houston in this red Corvette, he was going to draw attention to himself, and she was concerned that as a man of color, that he might already draw attention to himself simply because he was driving while black.
He did get pulled over, his son was with him, and in that moment, he had the talk with his son: "If you find yourself in this position, keep your hands where you can see them, always refer to someone as 'Sir,' don't do things that will call attention to yourself like driving perhaps a red Corvette."
But if he has the means to do that, why shouldn't he be able to drive a red Corvette?
>> IFILL: One of the interesting ones that caught my eye was someone from Texas who wrote in, "Hated for being a white cop."
>> It was interesting to hear the point of view from police officers who talk about the assumptions that they face-- that they, in many cases, joined the police force because they want to protect and serve, and in many cases, when they walk into a room, they will talk about feeling a wall of hatred.
>> IFILL: So, the anger and the mistrust and the nervousness that people of all races feel around race or around conflicts or around police action, it's pretty much universal.
>> It's hard to say that anything is universal because there are so many individual points of view.
The challenge is figuring out how to have a conversation where a lot of people disagree with each other.
And when there are so many difficult emotions attached to it, guilt and anger and fear... >> IFILL: Shame?
>> ...and mistrust and shame, but there's also some other stuff in there: hope, a sense of reaching towards something better, and maybe that's what will keep people at the table eventually, but that's the challenge.
In Ferguson, that's the challenge.
There are a lot of things that the town of Ferguson can't ignore, and because we all paid attention to what was happening in Ferguson that it's hard for us to ignore, for everyone to ignore, but do we have the courage, do we have the stomach to stay in that conversation?
>> IFILL: We asked some of you to fill out some of these race cards as we walked in today, and we urge the rest of you to go to the website and give this some thought.
It's an teresting exercise.
I want to start with Ivan, who's here in front of me, who wrote, "Race.
Not a choice.
What do you mean?
>> As you go through and walk throh life, there's a lot of things that happen, and maybe it will make you less of a racist or more.
I raised two biracial sons.
One is gay, and he looks Arab.
So I'm very keen on perceptions.
I'd tell my sons when they would start having issues with people or groups of people, "You know, you may be in an automobile accident sometime, and you may be injured such that you'll need somebody to pull you out.
I don't think you're going to care what that person is like at that moment in life.
So if you want to go forward, think about the goodness of what people can do for you."
>> IFILL: I have another one.
This one says, "Don't be black in wrong city."
(scattered laughter) Stand up and join me.
Tell me, what do you mean?
>> Growing up in St. Louis County, dot be black in the wrong city.
>> IFILL: That's more than six words, but... >> I'm sorry.
I grew up in St. Louis County.
I was born in Clayton, Missouri.
I was raised in Webster Groves.
And if you missed the bus... See, the bus stopped running a certain time, but see, we had to watch ourselves, but we went in groups, because if you didn't and those cops caught you, they would beat you up and you might not appear.
That's how bad it was when I was growing up, but then when the '60s came and blacks moved more out to North County and stuff, I've seen dog manure put on houses.
I've seen cross burnings.
I've seen swastikas.
I'm talking about North St. Louis in the '80s.
>> IFILL: One more.
>> You're welcome.
>> IFILL: One more six words, and this is from Lisa W. Lisa, your answer is, "Has nothing to do with this."
It's about Mike Brown, and him lying on the ground for four hours.
It's about bringing justice to his family.
If we continue to think that this is about a black and a white issue, we're losing track of what we're standing out here day and night to do.
(applause) So the Ferguson situation is about Mike Brown standing, walking down the street and getting gunned down by a Ferguson officer.
>> IFILL: You think it has nothing to do with his race?
>> It could be anybody.
I mean, I'm finding that you have whites that are being harassed, you have blacks that are being harassed.
It's not about race.
Right now, Ferguson is about Mike Brown.
>> IFILL: Thank you.
Sir, what's your name?
>> Hello, I'm Jay Mitchell.
My six words are, "I am not black, I'm human."
That's the first thing, because I think what needs to be realized is that we are all a collective body of people regardless of what we look like and stop making racism just a black and white issue.
There are Mexicans who hate blacks, there are blacks who hate whites, there are Japanese who hate Mexicans, so let's not just make this about racism but knowing how to move forward from this.
(applause) >> IFILL: We'd love to hear your six words on race.
Tweet them at #AfterFergusonPBS.
We've heard some optimism and we've heard some pessimism in the room here tonight.
I asked our New York contributors we spoke with earlier about their hopes for the future.
>> There is some hope here.
Over the past four decades actually, policing has improved significantly in the United States.
This may come as a surprise considering all of the events in Ferguson and the media outcry, but for instance, it is true that the police officer who is likely to respond will be a person of color, but what Cincinnati did and what I think the lesson here is, it's time to talk about governance.
>> Yes, I think this is absolutely right.
There are people who know who the president of the United States is, but they don't know who their mayor is, and that's one way that we can make a difference is to come forward and expect something of our officials.
>> I'd say look at the track record here.
The number of black elected officials in America has exploded over the past three or four decades, culminating of course with the election of the first black president.
>> IFILL: What is the solution, then?
>> I think it is getting the black cultural fixes in place that we need.
Like Bill Cosby: pull up your pants, finish school, take care of your children.
>> What I'd like to see... At MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, all of the doctors and the technicians walk around with a lanyard on their ID that says "Make Cancer History."
And everybody knows that the cure for cancer is not going to come from one person.
We understand that it's teams.
I'd love to see something that is "Make racism history," with an understanding that it isn't going to be that one leader.
It's not going to be a Martin Luther King.
It's not going to be, you know, a Jesse Jackson or whatever when you're asking about, "Who should be that leader?
What's that leader going to look like?"
>> Adding to what Anna has said, what the lanyard would look like for a police officer, it would be "Make Justice," and then you ask the people in the neighborhood, "How do you see that?
What do you want the police to do?
How do you want policing to happen?"
>> IFILL: Jason, what would your lanyard be, looking forward?
>> (laughing) "Personal Responsibility."
I think that's what this comes down to.
>> IFILL: Jelani Cobb, what is your lanyard?
>> It would have to be "Persevere in Pursuit of Justice."
Maybe that won't all fit on a lanyard.
Maybe it'd have to be an extra-long one.
But I don't think that racism is just the product of misunderstanding.
It happened because there was an economic interest in reducing a certain number of people to chattel and exploiting their labor, and there have been interests in maintaining racism in this country since then.
What I would say to black people and to conscientious people of all backgrounds is that it takes will and effort to uproot that system and the attitudes that it spawns.
>> IFILL: One of the things I found most interesting about all of this discussion is discussion about leadership, which you just heard Anna Deavere Smith allude to.
Brittney Cooper wrote about it for Salon, an article that caught my eye in which we keep having these discussions.
I know I grew up in an era where we waited for a leader, right, one leader who was going to lead the community out of Egypt or whatever we were going to do.
And indeed, we now have a different model for leadership, which we're watching develop, and that's what you've been writing about.
So I think that we have to get rid of this idea that there's one black male Jesus that's going to save us and bring us to the Promised Land.
It didn't work for Martin Luther King.
It's not going to work now.
(applause) Because even though I agree with the sister that this is about Mike Brown, it's about all of us.
Mike Brown could be my cousin.
He could be my uncle.
He could be my nephew.
He could be any number of black men that we love in the world, and so we have to have a national movement.
We have to have an analysis that says that this is not acceptable for America to do to people of color anymore, and young folks have the energy and drive for that, but we've got to invest in them and we've got to trust that we don't need one singular leader, that the vision we need for liberation is much too broad to be contained in one person.
>> IFILL: I want to turn back to the most pessimistic man in the room.
(laughter) And see if any of this has resonated with you, whether you see the possibility that maybe there is a way through, through any of these movements we're talking about, through any of this kind of leadership we've been discussing.
What do you hear?
>> I believe definitely, and it starts with, similar to what my sister said over there, just opening the dialogue to a more broader scale of people, and having the ability to be honest and look each other in the eye and say, "Look, I know we have some problems.
I don't understand those problems in totality.
I may be contributing to those problems on some level, but what can I do?
How do you feel about it?
What role do I play in that?
Where can we go from here?"
>> IFILL: I want to also bounce this off of Ross Kaminsky, because you said earlier, black folks should look in the mirror.
Does it sound like that's what some people are doing to you?
>> For sure, absolutely, and I think that's...
I think that's, how do we say, necessary but not sufficient.
We need to have a conversation among everybody, but everybody needs to be able to admit their part.
And I noticed, for example, when you were speaking to Jason Riley, a couple people in the room were laughing, but I think these are important views, a black man saying black men need to think about it.
I also think a lot more people, a lot more white people who live only among white people need to understand that this is a problem they have to care about.
>> IFILL: Well, that's what we were hoping to do here today, and I think we've been doing a pretty good job of it.
(applause) I want to turn to Antonio French, who's made quite a name for himself in these past several weeks.
I know he's on my Twitter feed.
(laughter) And I wonder, after all the discussion, all the debate, all the uproar, whether on the other end of this, you're feeling any sparks of optimism?
>> Yeah, absolutely.
I think for all the negative things we've seen in the last few weeks out in Ferguson, I also saw some pretty amazing things.
I've been inspired by the young people that have been out there.
I saw a new generation of leadership.
I think our role in these weeks, months and years to follow is to empower these young folks who have felt voiceless, who have felt that they haven't been heard.
I think now is their opportunity.
And so not just about... this isn't just about racism, but this is also about power, and it's time for us to empower those folks who have felt that they have not had it for too long.
>> IFILL: Do you turn the corner somehow?
Is there a physical way that you can turn the corner after such a split, after such a fracture?
>> I hope so, but we haven't had that opportunity yet.
Obviously, with the case still going, we here in St. Louis aren't after Ferguson yet, we're still in it.
And so, uh... (applause) And so I think the local authorities here in St. Louis County and in Ferguson have an opportunity to help set the tone for how we do move forward, and it's their handling of the current situation, specifically with Mike Brown, that is going to help determine how we move forward as a community.
>> IFILL: Thank you.
Margaret Schneider grew up in Florissant, and she writes for the St. Louis Magazine.
Give me a sense about what you're hearing and whether you think this has been some sort of, I don't know, breakthrough moment for the degree that white people talk to black people talk to other people of color, or whether folks are still just talking in their own little corners.
>> I think a lot of it is people talking in their corners, and that's unfortunate.
We're talking about dismantling racist systems here because that's what's in place and that's what we need to be having this conversation about.
>> IFILL: So do you have any hope?
>> I think it starts with three things.
Self-awareness: when we talk about personal responsibility, white people are the majority in this country.
We need to be looking at ourselves, we need to be looking at the things that... (applause) You know, when we're walking down the street, are we acting strange around people of color?
And when we're having these conversations, are we othering people or are we bringing them into them?
So that's the first part.
Second, I think listening.
We need to be humbling ourselves to our neighbors, to our friends.
We need to be listening to what they have to say, especially our friends and neighbors of color.
And then, third, we have to be taking action because there's no magic that happens here.
We all have to be talking about this.
We havto keep these conversations going.
If this is a 100-year effort, then we're talking about this.
That's what we have to be doing.
We can't just give up on this.
>> IFILL: Oddly enough, it kind of is magic actually to get everybody to talk.
It maybe should not be, but it is.
I want to ask you, because one of the things, as I keep saying, we've got to talk to the future, and you're the future.
In fact, you want to be a journalist, like me.
(laughter) You want to tell stories, and you've got to tell them well.
Do you see any hope for that?
Did you throw your hands up after watching the way things unfolded?
>> I do believe I'll have a lot of material for the future, because I saw a lot of people step up.
>> IFILL: When you met Attorney General Holder, what did you tell him?
>> I told him about how even the personal... My family experienced a lot of the being criminalized and getting traffic tickets.
There's a cycle.
If you get pulled over, it's an expensive ticket, you can't pay this expensive ticket, so you get the warrant out for your arrest, you get arrested, you get fired from your job, so you go to jail, and so you can't even get a job because you've got this record, so it's a huge cycle.
>> IFILL: A hamster wheel, yeah.
So Connie Rice, should Bradley be optimistic ababout this?
Should he look at this and say, "Yes, there's a future.
Yes, there's a way through.
Yes, I got to meet the attorney general.
Maybe someone's listening to me."
>> I think he should be optimistic because he knows he's willing to fight for his rights, number one.
Number two, I think that the collective awareness of the predatory nature of Ferguson's government, any government that sets out to issue 22,000 warrants, to ensnare 33,000 of its citizens in an almost debtors prison scheme, has got to stop.
(applause) There's just never any excuse for that kind of predatory government, and I think that collectively, white Fergusonians, African-American Fergusonians, they are now joining together to dismantle this unjust dragnet system, number one.
Number two, I think that Ferguson is waking up and looking at itself in the mirror and saying, "You know, we're going to have to look different."
You can't have a majority black town with no black leadership.
That's just not going to happen in 2014.
I think this community is ready to get its spurs on and ride.
I mean, I can just feel it, can't you?
I feel it.
I hear it in the young people's voices, I hear it in voices of older folks of all races saying, "You know what, we better get out of the way," and it's going to happen, but remember that for every Ferguson, there are 100,000 other little cities in the United States who are going through the same thing.
So I'm hoping that you can set an example for this country, and I have full faith you'll do it.
(applause) >> IFILL: Reverend Willis Johnson, you have said this is a human moment, an American moment and a spiritual moment.
I'm going to ask you for a benediction of sorts here as we talk about hope and the future.
>> Sister Gwen, I'm a runner, and one of the things that I do to start out my week most recently in light of everything that's gone on is to run from my home in Ferguson over to Canfield where the community memorial is set, where a young man laid for four hours unattended, uncared for.
I go there to be reminded of what happened.
I go because in my faith tradition, at the place of death, life began.
The place where there was hurt, a healing took place.
At a place where there was a rupture, a relationship, redemption took place.
And I go to that place to start my week out to remind me of the work I still have to do.
The prize is not to be in first or second or third place.
The prize is to get to the finish line.
And I just am optimistic, I'm believing that if everybody dares to do what I've heard in this room, acknowledge that something has happened and something is wrong, really wrong, in this community and across this country, yet affirm the personhood and the significance of each and every one of us, at the same time, decide and dare to act lovingly and justly, it's not only going to get better, the promise of it being better is going to be fulfilled.
So, I just run.
I run and I hope that others will run with me and together, we'll get to that promised place.
>> IFILL: Running and seeing what the end is going to be, right?
>> You know what's up.
(laughter) >> IFILL: Reverend Willis Johnson, Wellspring Church.
Thank you all very much.
This has been an amazing and touching and enveloping moment.
We want to hear what you have to say about these issues.
Do you believe that racism in America is clining, or is it growing?
Do we talk about it too much or too little?
To take part in our exclusive national survey, go to PBS.org/afterferguson.
There, you'll also find more of our big thinkers' roundtable and additional conversation from tonight's town hall.
A big thank you to our host, the Nine Network and the University of Missouri, St. Louis.
I'm Gwen Ifill.
For all of us here in St. Louis, and for the people of Ferguson, thank you for watching.
(applause) >> If you want to continue the conversation, go to pbs.org/afterferguson, where you'll find exclusive polling data, video and ongoing discussions.
"America After Ferguson" is available on DVD.
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