This time last year, the nation was only beginning to understand the turmoil unfolding on the streets of Ferguson, Mo.
African-American teen Michael Brown, 18, had been fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson. Protests, initially peaceful, were rapidly turning violent and taking hold of the once sleepy city.
The shooting ignited a debate on police brutality and sparked a national discussion.
A year later, the world again looks to Ferguson. This time, it seems, the city is ready for its turn in the spotlight.
“Over this past year, Ferguson and its residents, they’re getting out of their comfort zones and reaching across the aisle, so to speak, to work together to resolve our issues,” city councilman Brian Fletcher told USA Today.
It’s true that the city, home to roughly 21,000 mostly African-Americans, has made headway. Ferguson hired a new police chief and city manager—both African-American. New laws have limited the amount of money cities can make from traffic fines in an effort to discourage unnecessary confrontation. And a longtime judge was removed as municipal court reform was enacted.
Still, Ferguson is no fairy tale.
“Business is absolutely not back,” Jay L. Kanzler Jr., a lawyer in Ferguson who represents small businesses and shop owners, told The New York Times.
While it’s clear the city has only just begun restoration, a welcome bright spot continues to emerge in an unlikely arena: baseball.
It may come as a surprise, due to last year’s widespread reports of fans clashing with protesters, but in the grand tradition of sports teams stepping in when a wounded city needs it most (the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl post-Katrina, President Bush throwing the first pitch at a Yankees game after 9/11, Auburn athletes helping rebuild rival Alabama’s tornado-ravaged Tuscaloosa), it’s actually perfectly apt that the Cardinals might become a beacon of hope as St. Louis bounces back.
On the eve of the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, the Cardinals rank first in their division, the National League. Just today, Michael Brown’s father donned a Cardinals cap as he fed the homeless at a St. Louis soup kitchen (his son was wearing one on the night he was shot). And a week ago, Busch Stadium played host to an event organized by Urban Initiatives wherein 30 local African-American teenagers watched the Cardinals play the Cincinnati Reds alongside police chiefs from Ferguson, St. Louis City and St. Louis County.
Urban Initiatives, a youth development group, hoped the meeting would help encourage healthy debate and, ultimately, mutual understanding.
“We’re always looking for an opportunity to have a positive interaction with the public out there and especially these young men,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told local news station KMOV.
The Cardinals still have several months of regular season baseball to play, but based on their finish last year (second) and performance this season thus far (first in the ESPN.com Power Rankings for the tenth consecutive week), it’s perhaps not too early to talk about a World Series appearance and, potentially, win.
It would be a welcome triumph for a weary St. Louis.