– PBS’ “NewsHour” with Gwen Ifill broadcast focused on race relations after Ferguson.
PHOTO: Audience members take their seats in the Lee Theater for “America After Ferguson” TV broadcast. Photo by Kat Riddler for The Current 2014 ©


By Michael Holmes, Staff Writer, and Kat Riddler, Managing/News Editor for The Current

The Nine Network/KETC in St. Louis, along with WGBH Boston and WETA in Washington, produced a show entitled “America After Ferguson.” The production was filmed at the University of Missouri—St. Louis’s Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center’s E. Desmond Lee Theater September 21 from 2 – 5 p.m.

“America After Ferguson” was an open town hall conversation about the racial tension believed to have been catalyst contributing factor in the Michael Brown shooting, the reaction to the shooting, as well as other similar cases elsewhere. The event was hosted by co-anchor and co-managing editor of the PBS “NewsHour” Gwen Ifill.

Registration for the event was through Eventbrite and space was limited in the theater. Passes to the event were no longer available the week before. The Nine Network over sold tickets expecting to have overflow attendees watch a live film feed in the Anheuser-Busch Theater at the Touhill. But on the day of the event they were able to fit everyone in the Lee Theater.

Attendees gathered outside the Touhill around 1:15 p.m. on Sunday after receiving an email that stated they would not admit more people after 2:30 p.m. and seats were first come first served. Attendees were given cards for the “Race Card Project” created by Michele Norris. The card asked participants to write 6 words that came to mind when they thought of race. This project was created to instigate race conversations and was used intermittently in the program’s filming, but it also started conversations between people in line.

“The issue goes far beyond Ferguson. This is a regional issue with deep rooted historical implications,” said St. Louis resident Robert White III.

Attendees were then given another card for prescreening purposes asking people if they wanted to speak and topics they would cover. These were collected with the Race Cards before entering the Touhill. Channel 9 crew members were interviewing people from the event as they were in line as well as staying after to give everyone a chance to participate in the conversation on the issue.

Ifill moderated the open forum discussion with an audience which included current and former elected officials such as U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, and former Mayor of Ferguson Brian Fletcher, influential members from all over the country such as Constance “Connie” Rice, civil rights activist and the co-founder of the Advancement Project in Los Angeles, and the Police Chief of Cincinnati Jeffrey Blackwell. Also included were comments local media outlet Margaret Schneider, managing editor of “St. Louis Magazine”. The Brown family was invited to the event, but declined.

Former Mayor Fletcher started the campaign “I heart Ferguson” and stated several facts about Ferguson that are ignored by the media and public since the Brown incident. He said that Ferguson was unfairly called a “suburban ghetto” even though it was named as one of the best cities 2010. Before the Brown shooting, Fletcher said that Ferguson enjoyed a reputation as one of the more progressive cities in the region. He also stated a shocking fact that private insurance companies would not cover damages sustained by businesses because the situation was deemed a riot. There is a donation fund set up to help those businesses get back up. The donation fund is http://www.gofundme.com/fundferguson.

“America After Ferguson” discussed the hot topics of racial profiling, discrimination, police brutality against people of color, and continued the dialog of how the events in Ferguson have restarted the conversation about race in America. Senator McCaskill said she believes that the peaceful protestors weren’t given enough space to assemble and that the citizens have a “lack of trust” in their community leaders. When a local rapper “Tef Po” said that he felt change had not come despite the sacrifices of past civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, McCaskill told him that people could have a great impact, especially on the local level. She encouraged the citizens to take leadership roles in elected offices so that the community will begin to reflect the values of its members.

Ifill showed previously recorded interviews with several influential people such as Former President Bill Clinton, playwright Anna Deavere Smith, and American Radio journalist and former host of NPR Michelle Norris which were interspersed in the program.

Police Chief Blackwell faced a similar situation in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2001 and gave encouraging words to St. Louis, “It’s going to be tough. First of all respect one another. It will get better.”

The show premiered on September 26 at 7 p.m. on PBS. The Nine Network of Public Media encourages everyone to continue the conversation at #AfterFergusonPBS on Twitter. Those interested can also be part of an ongoing discussion by participating in the “Race Card Project” at http://theracecardproject.com/.
© The Current 2014