PBS NewsHour: After ‘After Ferguson’

The program hosted a town hall meeting that resonates today

(This article previously appeared on PBS NewsHour.org.)

Our PBS town hall meeting, America After Ferguson, was one of the most remarkable journalistic experiences of my career, so I was thrilled to see how it resonated with our viewing audience.

Most seemed to understand that a single television program — no matter how singular — could erase the resentment and anger still boiling in Ferguson, Missouri. In fact, unrest and protest have continued to claim headlines in the days since our town hall meeting aired.

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But for a significant part of our audience, our conversation — among clergy and experts and local residents and politicians and law enforcement — struck an important chord that extended far beyond the St. Louis suburb. As promised, I’d like to share some of the feedback with you.

Delores from Maryland: “I was apprehensive as I watched Gwen’s show, at least at first. Then I welcomed the stinging, candid remarks. [It] resonated with so many and was equally at odds with many as well … I think this should continue. I feel there is a psychological and spiritual reality to how we are living in America today that is beyond what happened in Ferguson.”

Martha from Virginia, responding to Michele Norris’ six-word Race Card Project: “So here’s the 6 words ‘I am a woman of color.’ I’m white, and at times I’m hurt by the words ‘person of color.’ I feel these words further divide us in the USA. Any non-white person is a ‘person of color’ and I’m the other person.”

Gloria said she valued watching people actually talk to each other: “I saw the young white woman speak out about how white people should be accountable, but I agree with the black gentleman who spoke out about us as black people needing to take personal responsibility for our actions toward our lives and property and that of others. In short, every human being has room for improvement in this life journey.”

Linda: “The desire for change from the people in that room was something I didn’t know I was so hungering to hear.”

Gilbert from New Jersey appreciated the presence of American Spectator’s columnist, Ross Kaminsky: “The participation of a white conservative, who articulated the barrier that is created when black folk speak of the slavery and racial segregation of many years ago, with which he and his generation of white persons had nothing to do with, was helpful. It explained the defensiveness I experience as I have shared with white persons, how at my age, 80, the scars that were imposed on my slave ancestors and the racial segregation my wife and I have experienced, are still very present with us psychologically, and in our memories.”

Eileen from Nevada said viewers should also consider law enforcement’s point of view: “The officers have to face these situations daily … a good officer can be worn down and fed up and feel threatened too. The reports of the number of shots and placement is horrendous and appears inexcusable … at best an over-reaction. This is a two-edged sword. Hopefully we can work together for some answers.”

And this, from Lucille in New Jersey: “I have not experienced such a burst of emotion and sense of downright fulfillment from any program as I am now feeling. Wake up! Talk about it. Be aware. Learn from each other. Thank you!”

There were more. Some thought we should have focused more sharply on Michael Brown’s character, or on the culpability of law enforcement. But I think we accomplished what we set out to do — to provide the spark for the national conversation we all say we want to have, but never seem to get around to. Unfortunately, I believe there will be more sparks and more conversations.

Now it’s my turn to thank YOU.

Gwen Ifill
By Gwen Ifill
Gwen Ifill is moderator and managing editor of Washington Week and co-anchor and managing editor for The PBS NewsHour with Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff. The best-selling author of The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, (Doubleday, 2009), she also moderated the vice presidential debates in the 2004 and 2008 elections.

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