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Why Police Reform Fails

Six years after Ferguson, St. Louis hasn’t seen a single substantive police reform. A group of young Black leaders have instead set their sights higher: taking control of city politics.

In 2014, then-Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. His death sparked reports, blue-ribbon commissions and countless police reform efforts. But so many of those reforms fell short of their stated goals. Today, St. Louis leads the nation in police killings per capita. 

As the nation continues to grapple with how to save Black lives from police violence, we’re partnering with The Missouri Independent to examine why police reform efforts so often fail. We follow a new generation of leaders who, as a part of the Ferguson movement, are finding new ways to change policing in the St. Louis region. Reporters Trey Bundy and Rebecca Rivas follow local activist Kayla Reed, who went from attending protests to organizing them. After years of frustratingly slow progress toward reform, Reed transformed herself into a political powerbroker who is upending city politics.

And there’s no way to talk about police reform without talking about the power of police unions. We look how the St. Louis Police Officers Association, the city’s main union, formed to protect white police officers from accountability after beating a Black man. And we talk with James Buchanan, one of the city’s few Black police officers in the 1960s, who went on to help start the Ethical Society of Police, a union founded by Black officers to fight for racial equity in the department and community.

This show is guest hosted by Kameel Stanley, executive producer of Witness Docs, a documentary podcast network from Stitcher and SiriusXM. 

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