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Jay Cage, 42, walks in a silent march in Ferguson with his son, Jaxson, 3. / Rick Jervis, USA TODAY

FERGUSON, Mo. - The tear gas has dissipated, protests have softened to silent marches and, for now, peace and normalcy have returned to this embattled city.

The question circulating here now is: What's next?

The grand jury will decide, around October, whether or not Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson should be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, who was unarmed at the time. The Aug. 9 incident sparked days of violent protests and tear-gas reprisals by police. Whichever way it goes, the grand jury decision will likely spark more confrontations.

But beyond that, people here are asking if the incident could be a seminal moment, not just in North St. Louis County but across the USA, in how police departments relate to and serve black communities. Calls for police wearing mobile cameras and diversifying ranks are gaining momentum.

Answers won't come easily. After four days of reporting in Ferguson, I collected more questions than answers. Was Brown surrendering or charging when the fatal shots were fired? How do you mend such deep-seated distrust between people and police? How do you break the devastating cycle of incarceration of young black men here and in surrounding communities?

I met smart people who offered flickers of hope, such as Bishop Edwin Bass, of the Church of God in Christ, who helped tamp down the protests. But he acknowledges this scar is generations-old, stretching back to the 1960s, when he participated in sit-ins as a student at Colgate University. "Back then, there was a sense of hope," he says. "People had an expectation change was in the wind. Right now, there's a sense that maybe this is never going to change."

That desperation was echoed by residents - young and old, black and white who have witnessed the seemingly endless poverty and racism prevalent in North St. Louis County's inner cities.

I also met Jay Cage, 42, a self-employed painter and father to seven sons, who joined a silent march with his youngest boy, Jaxson, 3, the day after Brown was laid to rest. As we walked the three-mile route together, Cage, who is black and originally from St. Louis, told me what it's like growing up in places like Ferguson. The crushing poverty. The violence. The fear of police and each other.

The nearby City Justice Center, he says, is "full of young black men," many of whom he knows. A cousin recently died in prison after being arrested for having $50 worth of crack.

Cage offered ideas on reforming police - more community policing, withholding pay for officers being investigated for shootings - but real reform starts in the neighborhoods, he says. Dads need to stick around. More jobs and training. More outreach programs for kids. All seemed doable goals, obtainable for the price of a single police armored vehicle.

Most important, he says, people need to stop being afraid to talk to the inner city youth. The day after one of the more violent protests here, Cage visited some of the protesters he knew whom he had seen breaking shop windows and looting. He urged them not to be ashamed of those actions, "don't push it down to a darker place," but know that that same energy could be used to make positive change.

"We kicked the door in," one of those protesters replied. "Now it's time for y'all to walk through."

The door has been kicked open, with more discussion and debate on the subject of police and residents than there has been in recent memory. It's now or never to make it all count.

Jervis is an Austin-based reporter for USA TODAY.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Voices: Time for real change in Ferguson and beyond

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