When will Ferguson heal?

Editor’s Note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of “Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America.” She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Story highlights

Donna Brazile: President Obama struck the right tone in asking us to "move forward"

Brazile: While race likely played a role, I hope we can begin the path of healing

She says tendency of police to shoot first and ask questions later must be dealt with

Brazile: Extreme crackdown of police on suburban community is deeply troubling

CNN  — 

President Obama spoke Thursday about the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri – an unrest that began in response to the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old boy with no criminal record.

While the community searched for answers about the killing, answers were slow to come – both from city officials and police. The name of the officer who shot Brown was not released until today.

Citizens, exercising their First Amendment right to peaceful assembly, protested. The police have responded with riot gear, military equipment and tear gas – banned in international warfare, but used more than once in Ferguson.

Against this backdrop, President Obama struck the correct tone, telling the country to “take a step back to think about how to move forward.” He’s tasked both the FBI and Department of Justice with independently investigating Brown’s death, and he has spoken with Missouri’s Gov. Jay Nixon about the details on the ground in Ferguson.

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Donna Brazile

While there was no direct mention of the role of race in Brown’s killing and the protests that ensued, the President emphasized the shared values of all parties involved. He urged the local authorities to be transparent and to protect citizens’ rights to peacefully protest. He urged local citizens to refrain from looting or vandalism and to uphold public order. And he urged everyone to start the path to healing from this tragedy.

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I do hope that we can begin on this path of healing, but the events in Ferguson are a microcosm of larger forces that pervade American society.

First, initial eyewitness reports from Brown’s friends indicate that Brown raised his hands and tried to explain he was unarmed, but the police officer began shooting. The tendency to shoot first, ask questions later – particularly when dealing with young black men – is an issue the police force must confront.

Second, the subsequent reluctance of the police to release details about such a grave use of deadly force is of concern. In a democratic society, we need the authorities responsible for protecting us and given authority to apprehend us to be responsive and transparent.

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Third, when the community has a grievance with the authorities, the authorities’ first response should not be an extreme crackdown, characteristic of autocratic countries like Russia. To send militarized units with combat-like gear and weapons into the heart of a suburban community where protests are occurring, is deeply troubling.

Fourth, the tendency of some in the mainstream media to use pictures of Brown that reinforce a “thuggish” stereotype has to stop. The twitter hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown has effectively been used to show how the media could reduce an individual to a stereotype with simply one Facebook picture.

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The situation in Ferguson is changing hourly, but there is hope. With Gov. Nixon’s decision to take law enforcement duties out of the hands of St. Louis County and put it into the hands of other law enforcement groups, there could be a return to effective law enforcement. I’m glad to hear the President will continue to monitor the situation and offer federal support to ensure a transparent investigation.

When one of our communities experiences tragedy, it deserves answers and it deserves the right to express grievances. I continue to pray for the family and friends of Michael Brown and for a community torn apart to begin to heal.

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