Several days ago, I wrote an editorial imploring the city to be transparent in the aftermath of a fatal officer involved shooting in our city. As the photo for this editorial, I chose one I’d taken at the protests in 2014. In response to that photograph, council member Naquittia Noah emailed the council, stating that the photograph “attempts to promote a negative image of Ferguson that doesn’t align with actual current events.” She also indicated that “Any person(s) serving on a Ferguson Board or Commission should always promote the BEST of Ferguson.” This is troubling for a few reasons.
First of all, the purpose of our boards and commissions is to assist the council by gathering facts and making recommendations on a designated subject. I, for example, chair the traffic commission. At this moment, by the testimony of a great many residents, we face deadly reckless motorists on a daily basis. And by the testimony of our police chief, there is essentially no enforcement activity. Would Noah suggest that we should put a positive spin on this? “We love our friendly and careful Ferguson motorists. And we are here to make suggestions to allow our already safe and courteous drivers to do even better.”
Furthermore, it is disappointing to hear a council member presume the privilege of tone policing somebody, merely because they serve on a board or commission. Of course, one’s conduct during meetings, and when working in the official capacity of a member, is governed by rules of parliamentary procedure, and professional courtesy. But nobody surrenders their right to speak freely in their daily life by virtue of volunteering to serve the city in such a capacity.
One might also be forgiven for wondering whether Noah even bothered to read the article. Had she done so, she would have understood both the photo and the headline. Specifically, we were addressing the impact on the community when the police department fails. And we were acknowledging the fact that there is more than one way to fail. On the one hand, an abusive department can result in protests. On the other hand, a department that fails to enforce the more important laws on a regular basis contributes to a chaotic atmosphere that can contribute to a rapid decline in quality of life. Ferguson has been in both of these situations at one time or another.
Finally, I am surprised to be attacked by Noah for this photo. The photo was of a small and peaceful demonstration in front of the Ferguson police station. Florissant Road was not blocked, there was no vandalism or trespassing or direct confrontation of police officers. It was simply a few dozen people, gathered into the “Ferguson Wall of Fame” plaza, being addressed by several well known local leaders, in broad daylight. Which is to say, it was a perfect example of a good protest, at a time when others escalated to the point of becoming world news. Does Noah object to all protests, even a completely lawful and peaceful one? Does she dispute the legitimacy of the every objection which was raised by protesters in 2014, and later examined by the Department of Justice, resulting in a critical report and a consent decree? Does she think that now that she holds a position of power, all that should be immediately forgotten? Or is she simply raising a phony issue for political purposes?
In any case, this quiet effort by Noah to silence me is at once an offense to my basic constitutional right to free speech, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of boards and commissions. Perhaps Noah believes that being a member of such a body means sitting quietly and casting your vote in whatever way the leader of your faction dictates, a dereliction of duty which we have seen in excess. We deserve better, both of our council members, and of our boards and commissions.