Challenging times like this in the St. Louis region (and Ferguson) call for leadership among those we have hired to lead us, or those who have stepped up to lead.  We search out for these leaders, like thirsty people searching for stream. 

As Martin Luther King said:
“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

One of the tragedies that unfolded after Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson is that few of our leaders have stepped up to serve us well, especially in the last week since the Grand Jury decision.

The evidence of this is all around us.  Top on the list, and Exhibit #1, is a Prosecutor who made many terrible decisions, most cynically deciding to release the decision of the Grand Jury late at night, with a self-serving, mean-spirited and one-sided press conference that disrespected the Brown family, and others.  The list of his terrible decision are too numerous to list here.

Law enforcement seems to have been either ill-equipped for the inevitable response that followed, or made astonishing (or deliberate) decisions to protect government property but not private and business property. State officials made a series of troubled decisions in August and seemed paralyzed in their response last week, even though the Governor had prematurely called out the National Guard a week before and declared a “State of Emergency”.  Yet on Monday night the National Guard were apparently protecting government buildings and not the main targets of rioters and looters, and did not show up until 2 am, well after the arson and looting started for some reason, way too late to stop the destruction of the buildings.  Mayors of the most badly-affected cities also report that they had their frantic phone calls go unanswered, if true.

Not to be outdone in their cynicism, leaders in the opposition party seem more interested in making political gains by attacking the opposition than in actually helping people.  Thus we have the Lieutenant Governor making the tone deaf (and cynically political) suggestion that we should indict the stepfather of Michael Brown, just days after we hear that person who killed Michael Brown won’t be indicted, and making unsubstantiated claims that the President was responsible for the National Guard’s inaction on Monday night. We also have the Speaker of the House who seems more interested in impeaching the Governor than solving the deep divides and social problems of the state he serves.

We also have one State Senator who uses profanity (and other ill-chosen words) to disparage the sitting Governor, which certainly does more to divide people than it does to unite them, even if she has been quite active, on the streets with her constituents.

Our local leaders have not been much more effective.  The ineffectiveness and tone deaf response of Ferguson’s mayor to what happened in August is now legendary, especially as he seemed more interested in hiding than in leading (even if he seem to have learned a lot in the last few months in how to listen and respond).

The Ferguson Police Department, in particular, has been responsible for most of the problem from the moments of Michael Brown’s death, with a series of horrible decisions, especially leaving his body in the street for 4.5 hours to bleed in front his parents, not allowing his mother to see her child; as well as calling our police dogs and riot gear (think of the image of that in an African-American community) within a short time of the killing. Also the Police Chief held a press conference shortly after Brown’s death and leaked the information of the alleged robbery, and a video, even though no one had asked for it, which was the beginning of a campaign to smear the character of the deceased (who could not defend himself).

St. Louis County officials did not comport themselves well either, in addition to the Prosecutor.  The messages from the County Executive were almost openly dismissed, mostly because he was recently soundly defeated in his re-election campaign.  The County Police badly mishandled the August protests, with a heavy-handed militaristic response that stoked anger.

Even the State Trooper who was placed in charge of the “Unified Command” in August seemed to have performed unevenly in this tragic story.  At times he seemed a real hero, turning down the heat on the over-heated militaristic response.  But at other times he seems to have contributed to the problem.

Some officials showed some leadership.  Sen. McCaskill showed some leadership in August, especially by being on site, and in her strong criticisms of the militaristic response (but where has she been lately?).  Some local officials have been brave -- especially Alderman Antonio French, who bravery, courage and guarded, though outspoken comments (when needed) have been refreshing; and he also has been constantly on the front lines, defending property.  State Senator Nasheed also has been on the streets doing much of the same without seeming to overstep.  Especially in comparison to others, Mayor Slay has performed reasonably well under the circumstances.  But few other elected officials seem to have stepped up at this important time. Countless clergy and other leaders have been courageous leaders, again often putting their lives and livelihoods on the line.  Local civic leaders, business leaders, and protest leaders have indeed shown leadership when it has been sorely needed.

Indeed it is marker of this Ferguson tragedy that the leadership shown by those who we have chosen to be our leaders (for the most part) has been lacking, while leadership, if it has been found at all comes from others.  In addition, the true leaders have focused on SOLUTIONS to PROBLEMS while others not leading well have focused on petty personal squabbles, politics, biases or protecting their own turf.

Times like this do call for incredible leadership, and even though the Grand Jury’s “decision” is now known, by no means is this story of facing the deep problems of race, poverty, social problems over.  It is both not too late for our existing leaders to learn actually how to lead, and for new leaders to emerge.  After all, as Martin Luther King said long ago:

“The time is always right to do what is right.”