A PERSONAL STATEMENT BY ROD POWELL
Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, have garnered international headlines and been the subject of sensationalized news treatment. During my career, I invested considerable effort to improve Ferguson, Missouri, by serving as chairman of its Board of Housing Appeals and as president of the parent-teacher’s organization at one of its schools. I was active in city council politics, and I was even invited to sit on the school board that included Ferguson. This was while I was employed as the managing attorney for the St. Louis County Office for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri – the legal aid office for the St. Louis, Missouri, area.
Because of that background, I have watched unfolding events in Ferguson with considerable interest. Ferguson was not – and is not – a wealthy St. Louis suburb. I know from my years as an active Ferguson resident, though, that the citizens of the community are decent, hardworking Americans – no matter what their race may be. Like most Americans, they are the victims of the growing income inequality illustrated by prominent economists such as Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, and Paul Krugman. This inequality does not abide by racial boundaries, but affects most middle and lower class Americans. It inevitably leads to the types of confrontations that are occurring in Ferguson. The fact that the Ferguson police department, like many other departments across the country, has become over-militarized did not help the situation on the frontlines.
My friend and colleague Richard B. Teitleman, who is past chief judge of the Missouri Supreme Court, put it best in his comments at Drake University in Des Moines earlier this year when he noted that as lawyers, we must be concerned about seeking justice for all of our citizens. That justice, however, must not be of the kind noted by French author Anatole France in 1894, when he observed, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” This is an example of “legal injustice.” Our justice system must be one in which all levels and arms of our government actively endeavor to end income inequality by increasing real, meaningful equality of opportunity and thereby promote the “general welfare” envisioned by the authors of our Constitution.
The preamble to the U.S. Constitution adopted at Philadelphia over 225 years ago by the founders of our nation sets forth six goals for our nation. They are (1) a more perfect union, (2) justice, (3) domestic tranquility, (4) a common defense, (5) promotion of the general welfare, and (6) secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. Each of those components depend on each other for our nation to achieve the remaining goals.
Ferguson, Missouri, is merely a symptom of America’s failure to achieve meaningful progress toward the true justice envisioned by our Constitution. It is not an easy journey. As a friend observed this morning, today it is Ferguson, but tomorrow it will be somewhere else in America. Most Americans now hang by the thread of one paycheck. Racism is still with us because of the failure of our nation to achieve true justice and promote the general welfare. We must redouble our efforts to end income inequality, enhance the equality of opportunity, and achieve true justice.