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St. Louis Alderman: People Want To See More Than Resignations


There's been more unrest in Ferguson, Mo., this week. Two police officers were shot early Thursday morning as a protest in front of the police department broke out. The two officers, who are from neighboring cities, were wounded, but treated and released. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the shooter, who has not been apprehended, is, quote, "a punk who was trying to sow discord." The shooting follows a string of high-profile resignations, including Ferguson's police chief and city manager, after the release of a scathing U.S. Justice Department report on racial bias in Ferguson's law enforcement. Antonio French is a St. Louis alderman. He gained national attention for taking a leading role in calling for calm last summer. He's also been charting the protest on social media. Alderman French, thanks so much for joining us.

ALDERMAN ANTONIO FRENCH: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: In your judgment, have enough people resigned?

FRENCH: Well, no, I don't think so, but it's really not just about resignations. What people really want to see is a change of the system, not just a personnel change. But what we know is that even if we magically fixed Ferguson overnight, it would be an island of justice in a sea of injustice.

SIMON: At the same time, Mr. French, how do you keep the public safe? How do you get anyone to become a good police officer if they're getting - if they feel they might be shot by the citizens?

FRENCH: You're absolutely right. I mean, the tragic thing here - and this is the crisis that we find ourselves in in St. Louis - is that communities need police; especially communities with high crime, like many of our communities do have it in St. Louis. We need police. And an order for police to be effective they need the trust of the community. And so what I feel like is we have not acted quick enough. That in fact we had an opportunity over this fall and winter to do a lot of this hard work before we get into what is traditionally the high crime times of spring and summer. And it's been warm here for a couple of days and we've already seen a very high spike in crime, including the tragic death of a 5-year-old boy. So we've got a lot of work to do and we need to get to the business of doing it very quickly.

SIMON: How has the protest movement changed - maybe in terms of what its objectives are - and are there different factions now?

FRENCH: Oh, yes. Nationally, and even locally, we sometimes just put everybody in the same group as just protesters, but there are a lot of different people out there for a lot of different reasons. And the vast majority of folks have been peaceful. We did see back in August and in November, and then again this week, some people engage in violence. And they do not speak for the majority of people. They do not represent the majority of people who have been out there. But it is a very diverse group, and people have different agendas.

SIMON: Mr. French, you, I gather, have a family - 4-year-old son. Do you want him to grow up in that St. Louis area?

FRENCH: You know, this is a question my wife and I ask ourselves all the time. You know, we're educated. We, you know, have good incomes and we have chosen to live in a neighborhood I grew up in, which is a rough part of North St. Louis. It's in a higher crime area. Its property values are low. There are a lot of struggles. And we've decided to stick it out and try to improve our community. But when we had our son four years ago, he really became for us an hourglass. He is, as we see, our timeline of when we really need to see real progress. And so for us, we always have a sense of urgency about trying to really improve our community.

SIMON: St. Louis Alderman Antonio French speaking with us from the studios of KWMU in St. Louis. Thanks so much for being with us.

FRENCH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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