Harris Stowe University panel discussion looks at historical impact of Michael Brown’s death

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - The one year anniversary of the Ferguson protests is raising the question: How has the St. Louis region changed?  And what might happen in the future?

Activists, academics, politicians and religious leaders took a look at those questions during a symposium at Harris Stowe State University Sunday afternoon.

“We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go,” offered Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed as she spoke during the first of four panel discussions.  Nasheed pointed to the passage of Senate Bill 5 as a major step forward.   The new law prevents municipal courts from locking up traffic offenders because they have not paid assessed fines.  It also limits the percentage of a town’s budget that comes from traffic offenses.

Ferguson activist Johnetta Elzie remains critical of police departments.  “I knew the world was racist, I knew it. I knew what anti-blackness was a year ago, but I didn’t know it was this deep,” she told the audience.  Elzie lead protests in Ferguson and also spent time in Baltimore.  She says she now cares about legislation and policy and is learning “the many ways that structural racism affects everything in your life.”

St. Louis City Treasurer Tishaura Jones asked, “What are we going to do to change the hearts and minds of people who are inherently biased and inherently racist that think that black boys and black men shouldn’t be in certain spaces? “  Jones urged widespread conversations among people of all races to help change opinions.

Missouri State Rep. Michael, a Democrat from St. Louis called on African-American elected officials to “become the ones that appoint the people that then fill the jobs and respect our community.”

Nasheed said after her appearance she believes Michael Brown’s death became a flash point for many individuals.  It’s about the political and economic oppression that those individuals have felt and are still feeling at this point,” she explained.   Jones added, the cry “black lives matter” gives a voice to the belief that black lives have not mattered in the past.

Many of the panelists predicted young activists will provide the energy and persistence to keep the movement that began a year ago in Ferguson alive.