Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ferguson Residents Form Group to Fight Back Against the DOJ

Posted By on Thu, Oct 15, 2015 at 6:00 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/PAUL SABLEMAN

Before you get upset, the new group called Ferguson Truth wants to make sure you know what they're not saying.

They're not saying Ferguson is perfect. They're not saying racism isn't real.

But this loose-knit group of Ferguson residents is still very concerned about the U.S. Department of Justice's ongoing investigation into their city. They're fighting back because they fear that what the feds are pushing in the name of reform could bankrupt the municipality.

"We want to make our community better," says Blake Ashby, an entrepreneur and Ferguson resident who serves as a spokesman for the group. "But we also want to make sure they're not trying to de-incorporate us."

The group has put up a website, fergusontruth.org, aimed at raising at least $500,000. And they're calling for increased transparency from the Justice Department.

More than a year after a Ferguson police officer shot an unarmed teenager, triggering nationwide protests and putting the north-county suburb under a microscope, Ashby says rumors have been flying. He's heard that the DOJ wants Ferguson to switch from a council-manager form of government to one with a strong mayor. He's heard that they may be calling for a shift in the election cycle, or for drastically changing the composition of the police department, or for requiring the city not to enforce housing code violations. He doesn't know any of that with certainty, though — city officials have told him and other interested citizens that they're not supposed to talk until they come to terms with the feds.

In August, Ferguson officials nixed the DOJ's draft proposal to reform city government, and the two government entities have been in talks since. (Here's the report written by the Justice Department summarizing its investigation into the Ferguson Police Department.)

But the Ferguson Truth group, which is not affiliated with the city government, is worried about where things are headed, and anxious for the DOJ to let them know what's really going on. They fear the Justice Department won't be happy until the town becomes "Holderville" — a civil rights attorney's version of Utopia — even if it bankrupts them, Ashby says.

"This might just be a negotiating tactic," Ashby says. "But we're worried it might be too costly to comply" with the DOJ's vision. And that would be a shame, he says. "Most of the people in Ferguson want to see Ferguson continue as a community."

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined comment yesterday.

Despite the problems with its police department, Ashby says Ferguson has gotten a bum rap. "This is the place that white people and black people moved to because they couldn't afford University City, but still wanted a diverse community," he says. "It's one of the more integrated towns in the St. Louis area."

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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