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Justice Department Bans Reporters, Non-Residents from Ferguson Town Hall Meetings

A unit of the United States Justice Department has decided to protect the mayor of Ferguson and city council members from the potential effects of transparency by banning reporters and non-residents from a series of town hall meetings.

As a community continues to struggle for justice in the aftermath of a shooting by a white police officer, who killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Community Relations Service (CRS) of the Justice Department has become involved.

Town hall meetings, which were “originally billed by Mayor James Knowles III as a dialogue with the community ‘so they know exactly where we stand on things with full transparency,'” will now be closed to media and just about anyone who does not live in Ferguson.

Devin James, a spokesman for Ferguson, told the Post-Dispatch that CRS insisted “reporters be kept out of the city’s ‘town hall’ meetings planned for each of three wards because having media present could alter the conversations.” James claimed it would allow for a “more true dialogue” and benefit the community.

The Post-Dispatch additionally reported:

In an email late Friday, Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, confirmed that the “town hall” meetings were being overseen by the Community Relations Service.

Iverson also pointed to the unit’s mission statement, which says the service “provides confidential mediation, facilitation, training, and consulting services to help communities enhance their ability to alleviate, solve, and respond to future conflicts more effectively.”

She did not respond to a question about whether the city’s town hall meetings fit the mediation concept.

If some community leaders from Ferguson are going to sit across from Ferguson city council members with a Justice Department official at the table to mediate a discussion, then this would seem to fit the definition of “mediation” and, perhaps, warrant closure to press and non-residents. But town halls are not for “confidential mediation” any more than armored personnel carriers are for facilitating peaceful assemblies of protestors.

Essentially, the Justice Department’s in-house public relations consulting firm is seeking to prevent city officials in Ferguson from further embarrassment in the world, as they are unable to quell the protest, anger and distrust among residents. Officials believe that under the guise of “conflict resolution” they can impose secrecy to heal division, but it will only empower those in power to be more capable of deflecting criticism without fear of accountability.

Ferguson officials rightfully are afraid of a repeat of what happened at the first city council meeting after Brown was gunned down by an officer, which was held on September 9. Multiple residents stood up and informed the mayor and city council that the community was coming after their jobs.

One older black resident said, “The present administration of Ferguson, the Ferguson-Florissant school district and police department, to me, represent a good old boys network. Those of us that are old enough know exactly what that is.”

A black woman in her thirties said she wanted to know when everyone was going to get rid of the Ferguson city council and mayor. “If we can’t have it, we’re going to shut it down.”

“There was a young man who was locked up in Ferguson,” another younger black woman told the council. “And he was beaten and then later they said, oops, wrong person. You’re the wrong Henry Davis.”

Addressing a member of the city council, Kim Tihen, she added, “You were the police officer who beat him and then charged him with destruction of property for bleeding on your uniform. We coming for your seat first.” The audience at the meeting loudly applauded.

A black mother shared how her two 17-year-old sons had been pulled over by police multiple times. They had only been driving for a year yet she already has paid hundreds of dollars in fines to the municipal court system.

The meeting, which was held in a local church, featured multiple moments where residents were agitating the city council. For example, when the members of the council refused to answer any community questions because that is not how city council meetings work, there were people who became very upset.

In the beginning, some member of the city council asked people speaking during the comments period to give their name and address. One black woman objected to this invasion of her privacy and replied that she lived at “Ground Zero.”

This scene unfolded before an all-white city council that clearly has lost all legitimacy. It is trying to regain some level of legitimacy, and the Justice Department appears intent to help city leaders move forward by blocking media and outside residents from attending meetings, as if they are responsible for inspiring residents to demand dignity, respect and justice from their city council—what everyone in any community would want.

Possibly, the Justice Department is afraid that what is happening could unfold in other cities in America.

Marginalized and repressed people have not only found their voice but they have seized the moment to try and take control of their community so they no longer have to suffer so much. They are telling stories they never thought they would tell because, frankly, they probably figured nobody would want to listen to them. They didn’t know what self-worth they had as a human being.

Does the Justice Department not realize that residents will attend meetings and share accounts of what happened after each of them? Some may even manage to capture video and photos and write their own stories, which could be shared on the internet. Plus, imposing a media blackout will only generate more interest in this series of meetings—the opposite of what the government wants for the elite in Ferguson.

The first town hall meeting in a five-week series is September 23.

If the Justice Department truly wants to help resolve conflict in the community, they won’t try to protect Ferguson city council from further public shaming. They won’t try to find some way to help people move on and suppress their emotions over issues they are right to be frustrated over. Because, if the Justice Department does insist on applying an undemocratic veneer of no access to media or non-residents, it will only increase the likelihood that what happened between residents and the Ferguson police department after Brown was killed will happen again.

Video of Ferguson city council meeting on September 9

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”560″ height=”315″ align=”none” !}

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Justice Department Bans Reporters, Non-Residents from Ferguson Town Hall Meetings

A unit of the United States Justice Department has decided to protect the mayor of Ferguson and city council members from the potential effects of transparency by banning reporters and non-residents from a series of town hall meetings.

As a community continues to struggle for justice in the aftermath of a shooting by a white police officer, who killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Community Relations Service (CRS) of the Justice Department has become involved.

Town hall meetings, which were “originally billed by Mayor James Knowles III as a dialogue with the community ‘so they know exactly where we stand on things with full transparency,'” will now be closed to media and just about anyone who does not live in Ferguson.

Devin James, a spokesman for Ferguson, told the Post-Dispatch that CRS insisted “reporters be kept out of the city’s ‘town hall’ meetings planned for each of three wards because having media present could alter the conversations.” James claimed it would allow for a “more true dialogue” and benefit the community.

The Post-Dispatch additionally reported:

In an email late Friday, Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, confirmed that the “town hall” meetings were being overseen by the Community Relations Service.

Iverson also pointed to the unit’s mission statement, which says the service “provides confidential mediation, facilitation, training, and consulting services to help communities enhance their ability to alleviate, solve, and respond to future conflicts more effectively.”

She did not respond to a question about whether the city’s town hall meetings fit the mediation concept.

If some community leaders from Ferguson are going to sit across from Ferguson city council members with a Justice Department official at the table to mediate a discussion, then this would seem to fit the definition of “mediation” and, perhaps, warrant closure to press and non-residents. But town halls are not for “confidential mediation” any more than armored personnel carriers are for facilitating peaceful assemblies of protestors.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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