By Jocelyn Klocke
It didn’t take long after his arrival in St. Louis for second-year law student Mark Timmerman to immerse himself into his new city and begin working toward the social change he envisioned would be a part of his education.
“I chose SLU LAW because I had a gut-feeling that this school had true and meaningful mission, that the professors and clinics would provide me with life-changing experiences, that I would find deep friendships, and that St. Louis would be a place I could truly call home,” said Timmerman. “So far, that gut-feeling was correct.”
Growing up in West Lafayette, Indiana and Monmouth, Illinois, he studied religion, philosophy and music performance at Illinois Wesleyan University before moving to St. Louis one day before the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
For many, Brown’s death peeled back longstanding racial, economic and social issues in the region. When he became aware of the issues, Timmerman joined his voice with protestors.
In response to ongoing evidence of racial inequality throughout the region (an issue the Legal Clinics involved itself in for years at the municipal court level), Gov. Jay Nixon established the Ferguson Commission in November 2014 to study the underlying social and economic issues that led to the unrest in Ferguson and to develop recommendations of policy changes to address these issues. Timmerman followed the progress of the commission closely, so when SLU LAW’s Office of Career Services emailed a notice for an internship opportunity with the Ferguson Commission, he leaped at the opportunity to work toward moving the region forward.
From gathering research and organizing and attending meetings, to taking and analyzing notes and helping the working groups organize the policy recommendations, Timmerman’s days with the Commission were fast-paced, often leading to long and intense conversations and debates among the working group members.
“Not only is there no typical day with the Ferguson Commission, but most of the time it feels like every hour brings a new challenge,” he said.
During the second phase of his internship, after all the 189 working group recommendations, or Calls to Action, were voted on and passed at the end of the summer, Timmerman began the process of prioritizing them and writing the final report.
“This was an intense and quite memorable time,” he recalled. “There were countless brainstorming sessions, many drafts and ideas created and thrown out, hundreds of Word documents, and a few all-nighters with the entire team as we developed and wrote the report.”
Along with Timmerman, fellow SLU LAW 2L and St. Louis native Jimmy Martin also spent time working with the Commission. As a summer intern with law firm Dowd Bennett, Martin supported Gabriel Gore, a partner at the firm and member of the Commission. Gore’s team was tasked with making a recommendation to the Citizens and Law Enforcement Working Group regarding police use of force investigations.
“I researched the approaches to the investigation and prosecution of instances in which police use force,” said Martin. “We began with a nationwide look at what sorts of approaches were out there and, eventually, through research and discussion and over the course of several months, came up with a recommendation.”
After months of work and the input of more than 100 regional leaders, 20,000-plus volunteer hours and 60 public meetings, the report was finished and delivered to Gov. Nixon on Sept. 14.
The final report can be found at forwardthroughferguson.org, a site that also highlights the issues of the St. Louis region, stories of people in the region and groups that do work revolving around the Ferguson Commission.
Now the Commission is working tirelessly to secure an infrastructure that will carry the work forward after the Ferguson Commission comes to its official end on Dec. 31.
“In order to implement these policy recommendations and make the systems and institutions in our region fairer, just and equitable, it will take a collective effort,” said Timmerman. “This means that all people must take it upon themselves to identify which Calls to Action they are passionate about, dedicate their time and energy to see that those recommendations are implemented by our leaders and institutions, and team together in order to support other efforts.”
Timmerman hopes others step up and get involved in the issues at hand. “In order for valid societal change to happen, you must have all of the key people at the table, even if they disagree with each other,” he said.
What stood out in the process for Martin was the sheer number and complexity of issues relating to the events in Ferguson. This experience reaffirmed his commitment to be involved in the community and serve the underprivileged after he graduates.
The last year provided Timmerman face-to-face interactions with people who continue to deal with racism today. His participation with the Commission enlightened him to the unfair and complex circumstances and how to work towards fixing those problems. He gives credit to the people he was fortunate enough to witness help those in need to inspire him to also make a difference with his life as well.
“In the future, I want to advocate for the indigent, discriminated, oppressed, and forgotten in our world and continue to fight for policy and systemic change in order for St. Louis to become a more equitable and fair place for everyone.”