Former Ferguson mayor discusses racial tension in the city

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FERGUSON, MO (WPIX) -- If the relationship between Ferguson's black and white communities is broken, the Corner Coffee House — where we met former two term Ferguson Mayor Brian Fletcher — seems like a good place to start the conversation about how to fix it.

"Well someone asked me months ago about whether we are segregated in our city. And I'd have to say, well we are. But we tend to do it by choice. By ourselves. We have black churches. We have white churches. That doesn't make it right. We do this because we're comfortable. We don't want to reach out of our comfort zone. And that's what we have to start doing," said Fletcher.

As residents wait to hear whether a Grand Jury has decided to indict police officer Darren Wilson, Fletcher believes the challenges within St. Louis County's transient, apartment dwelling community, are at least partly responsible for the deep seeded racial tensions which bubbled over in the weeks and months after Michael Brown's death.

"And I understand it, especially in low income households, they're barely able to feed and clothe their children. How do they possibly have time to get on a board or committee? Or the Kiwanis, or rotary? Ya know, get yourself embraced and engaged in the community? Many of our African-Americans say we don't have enough African-American leadership – that we don't have enough African-American police officers. And there are reasons for that," said Fletcher.

PIX11's Jay Dow challenged Fletcher by asking what his position had to do with how a police department interacts with member of the black community. Fletcher responded, "Well I agree with you. I agree with you one hundred percent. That's why I don't feel you necessarily have to have African-American police officers. Because they should be able to interact – regardless of their race."

None of Fletcher's sentiments sit well with Rick Canamore who we later met a few blocks away from the coffee house, as he protested outside the Ferguson police department headquarters.

Canamore says members of this area's impoverished black communities are often targeted by police — as a means to generate municipal income through an avalanche of fees and fines.

"We just don't feel like we're treated fairly, like we're treated as equals. If they're pulled over for a minor traffic stop, they wind up paying three or four hundred dollars, even more. They rip you to shreds when you walk out of there," said Canamore.

Meantime, back at the Corner Coffee Shop St. Louis County native, and public relations executive John Parker says Ferguson can learn from its inexperience in the national spotlight – and hopefully become a blueprint for how to mend a racially broken community, after the protests end, and media leaves town.

"I want the media out of here as soon as possible. Because. I won't say you're making it worse. But I think overall, there has not been very fair and accurate account of what's going on here," said Parker.

By Jay Dow

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