As Ferguson, Mo., prepares to mark a year since Michael Brown's death on Sunday, the mostly black community of 21,000 north of St. Louis remains a work in progress, reports the New York Times. It has rebuilt its battered commercial areas and diversified its once white-dominated government. Yet Ferguson remains divided between those who think its progress is real and those who believe that little beyond the superficial has changed. Law enforcement officials are bracing for a new wave of memorials, concerts, demonstrations, road closings and acts of civil disobedience this weekend in commemoration of the anniversary. Brown’s family has called for peaceful vigils, but police appear to have prepared for any outcome.
Local, state and federal authorities point to new programs and laws enacted since the unrest, including increased funds for job training and college assistance, and legislation lowering the percentage of revenue Missouri cities can make from traffic fines and fees. Perhaps most significant, city leaders have revamped the municipal court system, replacing the longtime judge, and two criticized practices: holding people in jail for days on minor offenses when they could not post bonds, and piling on new “failure to appear” charges against those who miss court. Still, the police force, overwhelmingly white when Brown was killed, remains overwhelmingly white. Efforts to institute “community-based” policing to improve relations with African-American residents appear to be only in early stages. “The mind-set is still that it's normal to have the police stop African-Americans and harass us and shake us down,” said Phil Gassoway, a Ferguson resident and regular at local demonstrations. “That's the norm — still is. There's no change nowhere.”