The Department of Justice kept a tight lid on Monday night's Ferguson town hall meetings, checking IDs at the door and kicking out non-residents and anyone who tried to videotape the conversation.
Ferguson residents had mixed reactions to the meeting, some heralding it as a breakthrough in openness and healing and others accusing their neighbors of racial insensitivity, especially those using the word "thugs" to describe protesters, at the closed town hall.
But what was so secret that no one else -- including Ferguson business owners who live in other cities or the press -- was allowed to hear it?
Update: Ferguson protesters have responded point-by-point to the city's list of 18 "clarifications." Read it after the jump.
Residents say elected city officials distributed a flyer explaining the eighteen most common "misconceptions" about Ferguson.
UPDATE: Here are Fergsuon protesters' reactions to the "misconceptions." Our original story continues below the document.
Here's what the city's leaders want their constituents to know, according to Ferguson's "Most Common List of Misconceptions in Ferguson:"
1. Ferguson police don't target black drivers. In the list released to residents, city officials point out defensively that most Ferguson residents and the majority of people in neighborhoods to the east and southeast are black. That means statistically that "most people being pulled over will be African American," the city says.
But someone at Ferguson City Hall must have realized how tone-deaf it sounds to defend pulling over more black drivers than white drivers in the aftermath of Brown's shooting, so the list of "misconceptions" also includes a promise to "earn African American citizens' trust back" by getting city officials more involved in the community, promoting black officers, raising officer salaries and mentoring students.
2. Mayor Knowles does care about black people. Especially after Mayor Knowles told reporters that there is no racial divide in Ferguson, protesters have been calling for his resignation. So during Monday's town hall, Knowles, who is white, was up front and remorseful about his relationship with Ferguson's black community after the Brown shooting. Knowles says he "made a mistake" saying there is no racial divide in Ferguson but that his comment was taken out of context. He says he also meant no disrespect to Brown's family or to protesters and will continue to apologize to them.
He hasn't yet met with Brown's family, and here's why:
3. Firing the chief of the Ferguson Police Department is harder than you'd think. Protesters started clamoring for the firing of Chief Tom Jackson soon after Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown on August 9, especially after Jackson released surveillance footage of Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store during the same press conference where he first released Wilson's name.
So why can't the city just fire him? State law says Jackson can only be fired by a supermajority of the council, not by the mayor. Before Jackson could be fired, the council would have to identify a legal reason to can him and hold a public hearing.
4. Mayor Knowles can't fire Darren Wilson. Chief Jackson can, but he won't. (Yet.) Ferguson's city manager or chief of police can fire a police officer, including Wilson, who emerged from hiding recently to testify before the St. Louis County grand jury investigating the case. But the city says firing Wilson before the county police and circuit attorney's case against him is decided would have "legal implications."
5. Ferguson Police didn't tear gas you or fire rubber bullets at you because they don't have any. The closest thing the Ferguson Police Department has to riot gear are two Humvees and a generator. One of the Humvees was painted as part of an anti-drug campaign for kids, and the other is for weather emergencies.
6. Ferguson doesn't make most of its money from traffic fees and fines. Ferguson officials were quick to point out that traffic fines make up less than twenty percent of the city's $20 million budget. However, the ArchCity Defenders legal group says court fees and fines are the city's second-biggest income source. The city has already pledged to reform its court structure, including eliminating the $25 fee for picking up a towed vehicle or the $50 fee to recall a warrant.
7. You won't get arrested because you can't pay a court fine, but you will get arrested if you skip your court date because you can't pay. So you have a court date but you can't pay your fine? Ferguson says it's better to show up, admit you can't pay and get a new trial date than to have a warrant issued for your arrest because you failed to appear in court. "The Municipal Judge and Municipal Court personnel have greater interest in resolving and adjudicating cases than in arresting someone and having that person come back on a later date," according to the city's list of misconceptions.
8. Officer Wilson is not being protected by Ferguson or the police department. "We are saddened by the incident that led to the death of Michael Brown, and we're committed only to an investigation that is conducted fairly and without bias," the city wrote in the flyer distributed to residents.
9. Ferguson isn't in charge of the "I Heart/Love Ferguson" campaign. Former Ferguson Mayor Brian Fletcher is leading this local group advocating for recovery and peace in Ferguson. Right now, the group is fighting against the cancellation of StreetFest, an annual festival, over safety concerns.
10. Ferguson is making changes because it wants to, not because protesters forced them to. At least, that's what the city is trying to say when it explains that reforms to the court fines have been in consideration for months now.
11. The "failure to appear" fee and bond are not the same thing. One is being abolished, the other isn't. Ferguson won't charge you $50 for failing to appear at your court date, but defendants with more serious, non-traffic cases before the court may have to pay $100 in bond. Bond is a legal term for the money a defendant pays to ensure he or she will return to court, and it is returned to the defendant if the case is resolved without any fines charged.
12. Mayor Knowles can't erase your traffic offenses and warrants. Part of the frustration in Ferguson stems from the city's legal set-up, where minor offenses like a burnt-out signal bulb compound into fines and jail time after missed court dates. Knowles wanted to make it very clear: he does not have the legal authority to cancel a warrant or traffic ticket for anyone.
13. Ferguson's PR team was not hired to hide the truth. Ferguson is too small a suburb to warrant a full-time media relations team, but after Brown's shooting, the massive influx of questions from journalists required the city to hire outside help. The city hired Common Ground PR to help with press inquiries and the Devin James Group, a Missouri minority-owned firm, for community outreach.
14. Ferguson residents and businesses are not moving away over the recent unrest. The rumors that protests are driving people out of Ferguson aren't true, the city says. In fact, businesses say they want to expand or move to Ferguson. "We hope people will take notice of the confidence that is being displayed in Ferguson," the city writes.
15. Police aren't bullying protesters with excessive force and arrest. The city denies that Ferguson officers have used excessive force to handle protests in town. As an example, the city points to the September 7 protest on West Florissant Avenue, where St. Louis County Police made "only two arrests" for failing to comply with a direct police order. Chief Jackson is leading the effort to reach out to protesters about their demands and planned demonstrations. "We truly believe that open dialogue with the protest groups is an effective outreach strategy that has the potential to greatly reduce any additional damage to property, loss of business or violence in the coming months."
16. The Ferguson City Council is not meeting in secret. The city council has only met once since chaos erupted in Ferguson, but protesters have suspected that the city's officials are meeting behind their backs. Ferguson's council says it cancelled a meeting after Brown's death because the city was in an emergency and now has to get creative about where to hold meetings that can fit all the residents, media, protesters and onlookers who want to attend.
17. Ferguson Police Officer Tim Zoll isn't in charge of Wilson's fundraising campaign. Zoll, the department's press liaison before it hired a PR team, is also a board member for the police non-profit Shield of Hope, which has been managing the fundraiser for Wilson. But the city says Zoll's role with the group is limited and he doesn't have any say over fundraising or distribution of funds.
18. Ferguson's proposal for a citizen review board isn't weak. Ferguson is still shaping the language for an ordinance to launch a citizen review board for police, the city council says. While protesters have accused efforts at starting a review board to be weak and without any real change, the city says its working with a national organization, the National Association of Citizen Oversight of Law Enforcement, to write an ordinance that will bring more oversight to city policing.
Here's the full list, from the Ferguson City Council:
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