Today marks another milestone in what we here in St. Louis have been calling the “new Civil Rights Movement.”  Here, for those of us who lived through the tumultuous events surrounding the tragic death of Michael Brown, we feel that this event last summer sparked a new, urgent emphasis on the underlying issues brought up by that tragic event, and everything that followed.

The Baltimore City Attorney’s decision today to charge all six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, after what she described as an ”illegal arrest” seems to most people as the right response to what transpired: a person was arrested without cause, and ended up dying because of what happened over the next several minutes.  What is excellent about the decision to charge these officers is that the justice system will now proceed as it should in this country, with due process for these officers, but to resolve the many questions surrounding Gray’s death.

What I would like to point out is that what happened in Baltimore really seems to have been strongly influenced by what happened earlier, here in St. Louis.  Moreover – and most important – Baltimore seems to have learned the lessons Ferguson and St. Louis has learned the hard way, especially that strong, ethical leadership can show the path out of a crisis such as this.

When Michael Brown was killed, the circumstances surrounding that death, and the response by the police and local and state authorities led to much unrest. In fact, the problems started not just with shooting of unarmed person, but that the aftermath of the encounter between Brown and Officer Wilson was handled poorly, especially after he was shot and lay in the street dying in front of dozens of people, including his parents.  It seemed to many observers here that almost every bad decision that authorities could have made was the path they chose. If anything, this also highlighted the true underlying cause behind the “Ferguson movement,” which was the bad behaviors of the local police departments (later described in great detail by the Dept. of Justice), but also more importantly decades of perpetual discrimination and underlying social problems, which really lay at the heart of the matter.

What we also observed – but perhaps it was not evident to as many people as it should have been – was that the VAST majority of people expressing themselves after Brown’s death did so in a peaceful and legal way, and that much underlying work has been done to heal the underlying social and legal problems facing the St. Louis area.  This work continues, now not in the national spotlight, and sometimes outside of a local spotlight, in work such as that being done by the Ferguson Commission, and others.

My observation of the events in Baltimore in this past week has led me to the conclusion that Baltimore learned a lot from the lessons one could learn from the many months of unrest in Ferguson and St. Louis.  From the agitation for justice after Freddie Gray’s death, to the sad (and counter-productive) unrest that happened on Monday, leading to destruction of property, and finally to the positive energy that happened afterward, Baltimore has demonstrated how to respond. 

The small number of people engaging in illegal looting and violence mirrors the small number of people doing the same here in Ferguson.  In Ferguson there was an incredible response by many community leaders to try to turn the movement in a positive direction, and much progress was made.  My conclusion is that Ferguson and St. Louis were largely failed by many of its political and legal leaders, including the leadership of the police.  Many of these people have now left office, or been removed, but not all of them (including especially the St. Louis County Prosecutor). 

In Baltimore, the lesson the political leadership – especially Baltimore City Attorney Marilyn Mosby -- has appeared to learn is how to respond to a situation like this.  My view is that Baltimore can thank the hard work of people here in Ferguson and beyond, for paving the way on this.  It also shows the importance of electing responsible leaders who make excellent decisions.