In the first major sign of change in Ferguson, Mo., since the police killing of an unarmed black teenager, the Ferguson City Council will establish a citizen review board to provide guidance for the police department, the New York Times reports. It also announced sweeping changes to its court system, which had been criticized as unfairly targeting low-income blacks, who had become trapped in a cycle of unpaid tickets and arrest warrants. Court fines are the city's second-highest source of revenue, leading critics to argue that the authorities had a financial incentive to issue tickets and impose more fees on those who did not pay.
Young black men in Ferguson and surrounding cities routinely find themselves passed from jail to jail as they are picked up on warrants for unpaid fines, one of the many simmering issues here that helped set off almost two weeks of civil unrest after Michael Brown, 18, was killed by a white Ferguson officer on Aug. 9. On the eve of what was expected to be a tense City Council meeting tonight, the first session since the shooting, the city instead pre-emptively announced many changes activists have long sought. “The overall goal of these changes is to improve trust within the community and increase transparency, particularly within Ferguson's courts and police department,” said council member Mark Byrne. “We want to demonstrate to residents that we take their concerns extremely seriously.”