Jamala Rogers, co-founder of Organization for Black Struggle, discusses its significance and the next steps for those on the ground in Ferguson
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. In breaking news, Ferguson, Missouri, Police Chief Thomas Jackson resigned on Wednesday. He’s the latest in a domino effect of city officials ousted or resigning as result of the Department of Justice report that found systemic racism by the police department and city offices. Now joining us to discuss all of this from St. Louis is Jamala Rogers. Jamala is a Missouri-based organizer. She is a cofounder of the organization for black struggle in Ferguson. Jamala, thank you so much for joining us. JAMALA ROGERS, ACTIVIST AND ORGANIZER: Thank you for having me. PERIES: So, Jamala, what are the sentiments on the ground to the resignation of the police chief? ROGERS: I mean, I haven’t had a chance to tap into all of the sectors who’s been working on this for a number of years, particularly since August 9, when Mike Brown was murdered by Ferguson cop Darren Wilson. But I can tell you that there’s been one of subdued elation. And that’s because we want to make sure that even though these are the proper people to be resigning or to be forced out, this is not a matter of just switching up the chairs on the Titanic. We need to have some real discussion about how this police department and court system is going to look. And just throwing people out and adding new people in is not necessarily the panacea. So we figured there needs to be transparent and open and a democratic look at what kind of folks do people want to see in these positions that have been vacated. And I think the people of Ferguson have every right to demand that they have input into that. PERIES: Now, Jamala, this has been a long struggle, long road to getting here. At least these organizations that have been working on the ground have some results by way of these resignations and the DOJ’s report. However, real change comes from, of course, further organizing, democratizing our institutions, and particularly city hall. Is there election strategy in place to turn the entire city hall around? ROGERS: Well, I don’t know about turn the entire city hall around, but there’s certainly new people running for offices, at least, for the city council. So, again, that’s going to include the people of Ferguson, who need to be very familiar with those people, who need to be out there campaigning for the people that they think are going to bring the kind of change that they are seeking. So we’ll see. That election is March 7. PERIES: Now, in terms of the remaining city counselors and officials, is there any outreach into the community? Is there any consultations going on in terms of what kind of city, inclusive city, is to be reconstructed here? ROGERS: No, it hasn’t, and I think that has to start immediately, because it seems like almost every day there’s been a resignation of one person or another. And so, rather than have a vacuum here, they needs to now be–and I know people are wrapped up in the upcoming elections, but there needs to be some kind of citywide assembly of folks coming together to actually talk about what kind of elected officials they’re looking for and what kind of appointed official, and I think particularly for the police chief. I mean, these people hold a lot of power, and they have the power to change the officers’ practices and procedures. And so, all across the board, not just with Ferguson, police departments are getting a closer look. So even though the Department of Justice focused in on Ferguson, Attorney General Eric Holder was very clear in a conference call that he had with leaders on the ground that he understood that there were contradictions in a lot of the other police departments, but their focus had to be Ferguson. So I think it really is up to the people on the ground and the people in the various municipalities or who are having similar kinds of issues to begin to push using the Department of Justice’s scathing report to bring about changes in those other municipalities. PERIES: Jamala, so what’s up next for the community? What are the organizers saying in terms of the steps that you need to take as a coalition of organizations working on the ground, in terms of how you intend to engage the city at this time? ROGERS: Well, there are a number of ways. One is we’re going to keep up the pressure. And there’s protests that will be happening today as they have been on some level since Mike Brown’s shooting. But there’s also an emphasis on some legislative strategies. So both on the state level and on local levels, people are pushing for changes in the way that the police operate, changes in the way that the state operates. And so there’s a multifaceted approach going on right now. And so all of those people may not be working together, but they certainly are working on the same kind of an agenda. PERIES: Right. And then, of course, the issue of justice, as far as the justice system is concerned, is one thing in terms of police and reforming and reconstructing the police department. But what about other areas that need equal attention? Economic development, jobs, youth unemployment, etc.? Are there organizations and community groups on the ground addressing those issues as well? ROGERS: Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s millions of dollars that are now coming into Ferguson and North County to address those issues. And it’s interesting that–you know, I’m actually preparing for a meeting of young people and advocates who are going to be tracking the monies that are coming in around education, employment, recreation, and health. And so young people are saying, where’s the money, and making sure that it gets to the respective youth organizations or youth services. And so that’s a piece that we hope to put in place that brings accountability for those dollars that are coming in. But, of course, the education systems in the county, as well as in St. Louis City, are appalling. And so those advocates have to begin to use whatever they have at their disposal to shine a light on those contradictions as well. Right now you’re absolutely correct. The courts and the police departments have been receiving the lion’s share of the spotlight, but that’s because folks are dying as a result of their conduct or their misconduct. But I think as we start to see some changes roll in around that, that people will feel like the urgency will be towards employment, particularly with summer coming on, as well as education. So all of those are very important to people in this region. PERIES: Jamala, I thank you so much for joining us on such short notice this afternoon. ROGERS: No problem. Happy to be of assistance and get the information out about what’s happening here on the ground. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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